Oh Golly Miss Molly

Miley, Molly, and Your Teen’s Mind

Molly—the “pure” form of MDMA—is all the rage among young partygoers and pop stars. But it isn’t all fun and games, especially for teen brains.


In her hit single “We Can’t Stop,” Miley Cyrus sings:

So la da di da di We like to party Dancing with Molly Doing whatever we want

It’s all the rage. Molly, a new version of an old drug, can be found spouted in hip-hop lyrics, passed around at music festivals, and experimented with in highs schools and on college campuses. It’s only growing in popularity and taking the nation’s youth by storm.

Given Molly’s relatively recent appearance, data specific to its use is scarce. It seems to attract younger users, often ages 16-24. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the prevalence of MDMA (the active ingredient in Molly) is 12.9% in youth age 18-25. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that emergency room visits involving Molly grew an astounding 128% between 2005 and 2011 in patients younger than 21. It’s time to tackle this.

Molly is advertised as a “pure” version of Ecstasy, a party drug that many users know to be diluted—or cut—with ingredients ranging from caffeine to cocaine to ketamine (used by doctors and veterinarians to start anesthesia). Some have found Ecstasy to be cut with other dangerous chemicals such as pesticides, chlorine, and toxic household cleaners. More often than not, psychedelic partygoers are unlikely to know exactly what it is they are taking—and as the market competes for cheaper prices and larger volumes, the danger of an even more ruthless concoction is on the rise.

So Miley has bragged about “dancing with Molly”—but what does that really mean? It all comes down to MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and its two forms of distribution: Molly and Ecstasy. The common active ingredient, MDMA, is why the drugs have comparable effects: feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and greater connectedness.

Molly holds the reputation of being an unadulterated drug—Ecstasy minus any and all substances used to cut it. It follows that Molly should essentially be pure MDMA, a drug patented by Merck pharmaceuticals and prescribed by psychotherapists in the 1970s. Purity refers to the chemical composition of the substance being taken. However, government officials are reporting that only a small fraction of seized Molly actually contained any MDMA at all, and if you scour the web, you’ll find veteran MDMA users recommending personalized home testing kits.

From Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”:

Pop a Molly, I’m sweatin’ (woo)

One of Molly’s short-term effects is indeed sweating. This is not the good type of sweat, like one you’d break during your 6-minute mile. This sweating occurs in response to hyperthermia, an uncontrolled rise in core body temperature that can occur from Molly’s effects on the brain. These high temperatures can be exacerbated in venues such as music festivals and clubs, where high-energy dancing in densely packed venues only adds to the dangers of exceedingly high body temperature. The detrimental effects of hyperthermia may result in an absurdly fast heart rate, increase in carbon dioxide production, bruxism (grinding of the teeth), visual changes, and in severe cases, multisystem organ failure.

If you survive these extreme side effects, there’s one more thing: the brain.

In the brain, MDMA works by altering levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is involved in neural pathways that control mood, pleasure, appetite, and sleep. Deficiency of serotonin has been implicated in several mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder and thus, widely used drugs to treat depression, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, work by increasing the amount of serotonin available for brain utilization. Such carefully designed prescription drugs delicately straddle the line between function and sacrifice. When using MDMA in the short term, serotonin is released from storage sites in nerve cells, leading to the feelings of euphoria, disinhibition, and increased connectedness with others.

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After long-term use, however, MDMA ends up depleting serotonin stores and possibly killing neurons that secrete serotonin, leading to permanent depression and even potential cognitive deficits in some users. It’s like burning the candle at both ends—sure, you’ll have more light now, but it’ll turn very dark, very soon.

Molly’s advertisement as “pure” and its adoption by pop culture icons contribute to its exploding popularity. But, like nearly all other drugs, illicit or not, it has serious repercussions. However, the difference is in regulation and standards. When filling a prescription written by a doctor and verified by a pharmacist or when simply buying an over-the-counter painkiller, the quantity, quality, and identity of a drug are tightly regulated and precisely known.

The most ominous characteristic of Molly, like all unregulated substances, is that little if any of this information is ever available to the user—and those users are the minds of our future.