October 7, 2014 8:06 pm
Updated: October 7, 2014 11:05 pm

What is Molly? How the party drug works and why it’s risky

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WATCH ABOVE: Global News learns how kids are getting drugs through social media.

TORONTO – A Vancouver teen who says she suffered vomiting, a seizure and a 46-hour coma after taking a pill called “Molly” shared her story online in the hopes of raising awareness.

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“There are so many people going through the same thing I did. Many weren’t as lucky, and didn’t end up waking up,” she wrote. “Before I didn’t know anything about Molly and I think that’s what the issue was, I didn’t research it or anything.”

So what is Molly?

“It’s a party drug,” said Andy Hathaway, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph. “It’s traditionally known to be used at raves; increasingly clubs since it’s become more of a mainstream phenomenon.”

Molly is often referred to as a “purer” form of MDMA, which is the active ingredient in ecstasy.  According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), methylendioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) was once the main and often only chemical used to produce ecstasy. But today, “many drugs sold as ‘ecstasy’ do not contain even trace amounts of MDMA.”

Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, an associated professor of family medicine and director of Student Health Services at McGill University, said people are seeking the “smooth sort of high” of MDMA, but that products like Molly are “never” a pure compound.

“It’s a stimulant so people get hyper; it’s a bit of a hallucinogen,” said Tellier.

“It’s what we call empathic –in other words it makes people feel lovey-dovey; not sexually aroused, but just sort of touchy-feely, lovey-dovey which is a feeling that people seek.”

Hathaway explained that because it’s a street drug, it’s hard to know what the drug contains.

“There’s not a great deal of confidence or certainty what’s actually in it—oftentimes it’s cut with amphetamine,” he said.

The problem with that is you don’t know the concentration, and therefore the reaction you’ll have, said Tellier.

Molly tablets or ecstasy pills (above) can come in various colours.

Sean Garnsworthy/Getty Images

In the early 2000s, “Molly” was slang for MDMA that came in crystal or powder form (versus pill form), according to non-profit educational website Erowid.

Erowid uses information from published literature, experts and input from the public to document legal and illegal substances. It also runs EcstasyData.org, a pill testing program of U.S. street ecstasy—and collaborates with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) on projects involving MDMA and LSD.

The site suggests Molly is chemically the same as MDMA—though crystal form typically means it’s not a mix of chemicals—and that in the 2000s, Molly was more likely to be pure MDMA than a tablet would be.

“Practically, the term ‘Molly’ is the functional equivalent of the older term ‘ecstasy’ but both of these terms now increasingly refer to a powder, capsule, or tablet containing a euphoric stimulant or stimulant, with the ‘Molly’ sometimes, by some people implying higher purity than ‘ecstasy,’” it says on Erowid.

The site notes people under 30 years of age in 2014 are more likely to call it Molly; people over 30 are more likely to call it ecstasy.

According to the CCSA, short-term symptoms associated with MDMA include:

  • Muscle aches;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Teeth grinding;
  • Increased energy;
  • Hyperactivity;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Increased temperature and sweating;
  • Depression;
  • Sleeplessness

Long-term side effects of MDMA include:

  • Sleeping problems;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Liver problems;
  • Panic attacks;
  • Jaundice;
  • Memory deficits;
  • Attention deficits.

“However, anytime a slang term develops which is intended to be used for the purest form of a substance, it quickly becomes used for all forms of the substance as every dealer wants their product to sound as pure and high quality as possible. Some tablets have been called ‘Molly’, implying that they are more pure than others, but EcstasyData testing results don’t show that to be the case,” said the site.

Erowid’s database say drugs advertised on the street as Molly are just as likely to be methylone (another stimulant in the amphetamine class) as to be MDMA; the group has also seen cocaine and methamphetamine sold as Molly.

Side effects of amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine include anxiety, increased heart rate and reduced appetite, according to the RCMP. Amphetamines and methamphetamines can also cause irritability, impaired judgment, increased body temperature, tactile hallucinations, aggressive thoughts, anger, and paranoia; while cocaine can also lead to depression and hypertension.

Tellier said all of these products are stimulants, which lead to similar effects of palpitations, hyperactivity and the feeling that you can “go on forever.”

“When you have the concerns about not being entirely sure what you’re getting and potentially doing it in settings that aren’t entirely safe and have an element of risk, then there are certainly risks associated with that,” said Hathaway.

Erowid notes that the term ecstasy referred to MDMA 10 years ago, when there were fewer other euphoric stimulants on the black market.

“Ecstasy OR Molly now is more likely to contain a cathinone-type stimulant than it was a decade ago because the 2014 market is flooded with cathinone-type stimulants,” said Erowid.

Cathinones are similar to amphetamines, but are found in the khat plant—whose derivatives are often used in drug mixes known as bath salts.

Aside from the fact that party drugs like Molly are mixtures with potentially more dangerous ingredients than what the user intends to take, Tellier urges people on other medications to consider serious reactions that can arise—especially if you’re on antidepressants.

“Alcohol is also a problem, especially if you’re not sure that [the drug] has got cocaine in it,” he said. “Because cocaine and alcohol leads to a product called coca-ethylene, which has a higher possibility of leading to cardiac events than cocaine alone—which is bad enough.”

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