Kids Are Dying From Taking Molly, And "Don't Do Drugs" Won't Stop That

The string of recent molly-related tragedies at music festivals is putting more focus on the dangers of MDMA. But indiscriminately stressing "drugs are bad" isn't the way to go to promote safety.

Sep 9, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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Though I didn't take molly at Coachella, music festivals are popular places to use MDMA.

The first time anyone ever offered me "molly," the slang term for the powdered form of MDMA (which, in turn, is commonly known as ecstasy), I was 21 and had just moved to San Francisco out of college. 

I've always been something of a worrywart when it comes to anything that required a Very Special Episode on Degrassi. All those horror stories from mandatory workshops in middle school -- about sex, drugs, bullying, binge drinking, smoking, wearing white pants on the first day of your period, you name it -- really stuck with me, to the degree where last week I accidentally talked at length to a new acquaintance about how for maximum effectiveness it's really best to use two forms of birth control (I'm really fun to have at cocktail parties, is what I'm saying.)

I mean, I still make decisions sometimes that would have made my Health teacher frown at me. I just worry a lot about them in the process.

Anyway, the "party drugs" unit at my junior high had been a particularly graphic one, full of photos of teenagers being carted away on stretchers from raves. So when my new San Francisco friend offered me molly, I declined, citing the whole "death" thing as a major factor.

"No, no, no," she said. "That's ecstasy."

"Aren't they…basically the same thing?" I asked.

"No, ecstasy is when it's cut with all sorts of stuff. Cocaine, uppers, stuff like that. That's how people die," she explained. "Molly's just pure MDMA."

This distinction certainly never came up in my D.A.R.E. classes. But over the years, I've heard this sort of reasoning rehashed again and again by people in their teens and twenties. Stuff like "It's in a powder, so you know it's pure," gets thrown around a lot, as does, "Ecstasy's dangerous because it's mixed with other drugs."

Whereas ecstasy seemed to carry connotations of ravers in the mid-90s, molly was portrayed to me more like people talk about acid or mushrooms -- as a relatively harmless way to connect with your surroundings on, like, a spiritual level.

Here's the thing, though. When compared to drugs like cocaine, heroin, or even alcohol, the dangers associated with LSD and mushrooms are usually relatively minor. But this knee-jerk assumption that molly is somehow "pure" is complete crap -- in reality, it's often combined with stuff that makes it way more dangerous than those hallucinogens. And that's a big part of why kids are dying from taking it, though heatstroke from losing bodily fluids is also a big factor.

I'm not a fan of fearmongering about stuff like this, despite my own tendency to obsess over addiction statistics and the like. I know lots of people who have taken molly and had a grand old time, with no major adverse effects. If you come up to me at a party and kiss me on the face because you're rolling, I'm not gonna think much of it except to maybe hand you a bottle of water.

But I do believe people deserve access to informed and unbiased information before they make decisions, and the fact that articles are still circulating that talk about how "pure" molly is -- and therefore how harmless it must be -- is a huge issue for me. 

I mean, a spokesman for the DEA said it himself: "dealers...adulterate the stuff." And even reliable dealers don't always know what went into their batch. One former dealer who operated largely in the Pacific Northwest and who made around $700 a week told me, "I never cut my stuff. Did other people cut that molly before me? Yes, absolutely. I never actually did any of the tests, I just knew. I know that I was not going directly through the cook and every set of hands it passes, you can assume it's getting cut."

She continued, "I've eaten molly probably twice in the last year. 'Pure' is not a debate...it's basically trust when it comes down to it. And everyone trusted me. But even as a former dealer, nothing I'm getting is pure -- not unless you're the cook."

When I was a kid, I'd heard the "rat poison in drugs" urban legend, but most of the time it's not that menacing. Bridget, whose name I have changed on her request, said that though she wasn't sure what her supply was cut with, she'd guess it was "most likely caffeine." She'd also heard that "people use baking soda or corn starch too. It makes the quantity last longer."

The trouble is, though, that as Stefanie Jones at Drug Policy Alliance points out, even relatively benign cuts can skew users' "safety plans." Bridget pointed me to EcstasyData.org, where people can send their pills for laboratory testing and whose homepage shows pills that tested positive for anything from caffeine to methylone to methamphetamine -- a difference in ingredients that could prove deadly if something went wrong.

So what could make molly use safer? Testing sites like EcstasyData help with awareness, though a kid buying molly at a The 1975 show is probably not gonna take the time to FedEx his pill to ED to see if he's getting his money's worth. Bridget told me that she herself would offer tastes of the drug to reassure them, though "even so you can't taste what it's cut with."

An increased number of testing sites like EcstasyData could, in theory, make molly use much safer (or at least make the molly "purity" claim much more likely). Bridget told me that testing kits are also available for purchase, which would be much more useful as an immediate safeguard. But as Jones notes in her piece, the likelihood of big festivals bringing in testing kits is very slim, because doing so in the first place would acknowledge the presence of drugs at the venue. 

Alternatively, anti-drug programs could, much like ideal sex education, move away from a strict "abstinence only" dialogue into a "safe practices" one. (I know this is basically a fever dream, but bear with me.) Lots of teens and young adults are going to do drugs. If education programs tell them, "Ecstasy will kill you," and they see that not happening, all of the other information provided is going to be invalidated.

Even if programs were to distinguish among the different risks of drugs -- acknowledge that some drugs are, indeed, more dangerous than others, and here are the warning signs that you should specifically watch out for and ways to keep yourself safe -- it'd go a hell of a lot farther for most young adults (present anxious company excluded) than a slideshow of teenage girls getting carted out of clubs in body bags.

Teens are smart, and pretty savvy, but they also rely on anecdotes and the Internet for a lot of their information. The best thing we can do is make sure the information they get is quality, even if their drugs aren't.

Kate is worrying about Kids These Days on Twitter: @katchatters

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