Rolling in: Use of Molly – the purest form of Ecstasy – growing on campus, becoming party staple

Updated: October 21, 2010

Dim lights, blaring music, students crammed into a dirty basement: It’s a typical Friday night.

Enter Molly: The room brightens, the heart races, the crowd becomes comforting.

Molly is the nickname for the purest form of MDMA, or Ecstasy. A highly popular drug in the 1990s rave scene, MDMA, an amphetamine, is reemerging as a common party drug at Syracuse University. The limited research on the drug’s long-term effects, combined with the euphoric feeling it induces, has led some students to perceive it as a safer alternative to other hard drugs.

‘I know a lot of kids that say they don’t do drugs would do Molly,’ said Casey Siegel, a sophomore fashion design major.

Siegel said she heard about MDMA in high school and knew students who did it last semester. But this semester, she has witnessed an increase in the drug’s popularity among students, she said.

MDMA usage was at its height in New York state in the 1990s, said Erin Mulvey, special agent and public information officer for the New York field division of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Recent investigations have shown the drug coming across the Canadian border and being marketed to college students as a ‘club drug,’ she said.

Pure MDMA releases serotonin in the brain . This induces happiness, but the user cannot tell if it is real or fake happiness, she said. But there is no way to tell if the pills or powder are pure MDMA unless they are tested. The ingredients are often mixed in unsanitary places like bathtubs and toilet bowls, Mulvey said. MDMA is often laced with other drugs like Ketamine, methamphetamines and heroin, she said.

Some dealers press well-known brand names into the pills, like Coach or Mercedes, to market them to young people, she said.

‘It’s kind of playing Russian Roulette,’ Mulvey said. ‘You don’t know where the drug’s from. You don’t know what’s in it.’

Erica Peterson, a senior anthropology and Spanish major, said she had never heard of students taking Molly before she left to study abroad in Chile last spring. But when she returned to SU this semester, she said use of the drug seems to have exploded.

Although she has never taken the drug, she knows many who have. She recalls one weekend party during which ‘half the people I knew left to do Molly,’ she said.

Crouse Hospital, less than a mile away from SU campus, has seen a significant increase in the past two to three months of patients in multiple units who use MDMA, said Monika Taylor, manager of outpatient services. 

There has also been an increase in calls to the hospital from users and their family members for more information about the drug, she said. Some parents call with concerns about their child’s well-being in regards to MDMA, she said. The increase in MDMA use started recently, Taylor said, so there are no solid statistics to give yet. 

Crouse’s rehabilitation center has six different support groups for people recovering from dependency. One of the clinicians told Taylor half of the members of her group names MDMA as their drug of choice, she said. Taylor said there has also been an increase in young people coming through the detoxification unit as a result of using Molly or Ecstasy, she said. 

Crouse tests MDMA with a urine screening, and Taylor said the hospital has a panel of basic drugs it tests. That panel changes as drug trends change. Currently MDMA is on the list, she said. 

The age range for patients coming in for MDMA treatment or therapy is generally between 18 and 25, Taylor said. She is unsure if SU students make up a significant portion of those patients, she said.

‘I know it does include some college students, but I would be hesitant to say just college students,’ Taylor said. 

Taylor attributes the drugs’ popularity among young people to the reason why young people explore other drugs — a sense of invincibility. Young people often think nothing can hurt them when it comes to drugs, Taylor said. 

Some of the usual effects Taylor has seen are increased heart rate, heavy sweating, teeth clenching, chills and sometimes a sharp increase in body temperature, she said. In the 1990s, when Ecstasy first made headlines as a rave drug, Taylor said there was a trend of sucking on pacifiers because of the teeth grinding. 

There are patients at Crouse who claim a dependency and see withdrawal effects, but that is not the case for everyone who uses MDMA, Taylor said.

‘From my understanding, some people may not get addicted to it,’ Taylor said. ‘Young people are willing to take the risk and bet they won’t get addicted.’

MDMA in itself can be harmful to the body, but Taylor said what young people should be more wary of is that MDMA in Ecstasy or Molly is not always pure. 

Some patients who said they used MDMA tested positive for PCP, and when told, they responded, ‘Well, that’s not the drug I was using,” Taylor said.

Tibor Palfai is the professor for PSY 315: ‘Drugs and Human Behavior’ and has authored books on drugs. Most of the research on the long-term effects of the drug has proven to be inconclusive, he said. The drug could be legally purchased in bars until the mid-1980s, he said.

The drug is often taken in party settings, but alcohol and MDMA are not compatible, Palfai said. This is because alcohol is a ‘downer’ and Ecstasy is an ‘upper.’

MDMA is popular among college students because it induces feelings of empathy toward others. The drug makes users feel warm toward everyone around them, he said.

‘College students are highly sexual beings, and I think this drug facilitates it,’ Palfai said.

MDMA has been used successfully in certain medical cases, Palfai said. In the 1980s, a psychiatrist in San Francisco used it as a therapeutic aid, he said.

But ‘in the wrong hands, irresponsible college students may use too much,’ Palfai said.

For college students, the risks involved increase in a party setting, where dancing and overcrowding are common. Dehydration is a main side effect of MDMA, and if not consciously avoided, it could lead to overheating, convulsing and seizing, Palfai said.

Despite these possible dangers, students who take MDMA perceive the drug as benign in comparison to other drugs, such as cocaine or a hallucinogen.

‘It’s not like a hallucinogenic, you don’t have to have a babysitter’ said Peterson, the SU senior. ‘I don’t know anyone who would do it to watch a movie.’


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