- Molly is thought to be the "pure" powder or crystal form of MDMA
- MDMA acts as a stimulant and a psychedelic, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration
- Exact numbers detailing molly's use are unclear, but users tend to be younger
"Have you heard of molly?" the girl next to me asked. She was swaying from side to side, bobbing her head to the bass vibrating throughout the sold-out venue.
The room around us was buzzing with anticipation. Music was blasting. People were dancing and laughing and taking pictures. There was less than an hour until showtime, and I was about to see one of my favorite artists, so I was feeling pretty good.The girl next to me, Jessica, was obviously feeling better.
I turned to my fellow concertgoers, watching as they met Jessica's eyes, nodding their heads knowingly. Of course they had heard of molly.
Turns out, molly is a pretty popular lady these days.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, molly is the powder or crystal form of MDMA -- or 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a chemical drug most commonly known for its use in the pressed pill Ecstasy.
Unlike Ecstasy, which has a reputation for being laced with everything from caffeine to methamphetamine, molly -- a name shortened from "molecule" -- is thought of as "pure" MDMA.
The DEA labels it a Schedule 1 controlled substance, considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted use in medical treatment, which means it's illegal.
This year, molly was abundant at music festivals -- if you knew where to look. At Miami's Ultra Music Festival, fliers littered the landscape mentioning her name like missing child posters: "Have you seen molly?" And when Madonna took to the stage to introduce an artist, the pop star asked the audience: "How many people in this crowd have seen molly?" A slew of cheers answered, though Madonna later said she'd been referring to a song, not to an illegal drug.
Hip-hop artists claim they know her -- she's casually mentioned by 2 Chainz in the Nicki Minaj track "Beez In the Trap," by Childish Gambino in his song "Unnecessary," by Kanye West in "Mercy," by Danny Brown in "Die Like a Rockstar."
It seems the drug is on the minds of many. But questions about who -- or what -- molly really is remain.
Contradictions about makeup
An experience with molly starts with a bitter taste, users say, which is soon forgotten as the high kicks in.
"It felt like everything was amplified. It felt euphoric -- almost like a crazy adrenaline rush for a long time," said Evan, a young professional working in Michigan.
"You feel a lot more loose and comfortable in your environment," said recent Georgia high school graduate Jessica, who'd never used molly until the concert in July -- a friend's recommendation convinced her to give molly a try.
And then, usually after a few hours -- depending on the dose that is taken -- of dancing and moving and talking, the trip comes to an end.
"(After it was over), it wasn't like a depression, but it was like, 'Aw man, I wish I felt that way again,' " Jessica said.
MDMA acts as a stimulant and a psychedelic, according to the DEA. After being inhaled, eaten or parachuted -- folded into a tissue and swallowed -- molly ushers in euphoria. It floods users' brains with neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, making them feel elated, empathic and full of energy.
MDMA first found popularity in the form of Ecstasy as the drug of choice among ravers at underground nightclubs in the early 1990s. But when questions arose over the purity of Ecstasy --- the drug was often mixed with other ingredients ---- people turned their attention to a purer form, said Nathan Messer, board president of the nonprofit organization DanceSafe, which promotes health and safety within the nightclub community.
"You knew you were getting the real thing and nothing but the real thing," he said. "Because people knew that (molly) was trustworthy, it became the go-to thing."
Molly is a street name that has been in use for about a decade, Messer said. Although it originally referred simply to MDMA, the title "molly" is now given to a variety of legal substances with similar chemical structures.
Its exact makeup has been confused and contradicted among both users and experts. The DEA has labeled molly as MDMA, but Carl Hart, a Columbia University associate professor of psychology, said many researchers consider molly to be the chemical 6-APB, or Benzo Fury.
Messer said MDPV, methylone, mephedrone and butylone -- different substances or drugs -- are often sold as molly, while users such as Evan have heard countless rumors of molly's makeup, including that it's created from fertilizer.
Number of users unclear
Molly users tend be young, ages 16 to 24, said Pax Prentiss, co-founder and CEO of Southern California's Passages rehabilitation centers.
Exact numbers detailing molly's use are unclear -- studies conducted by U.S. health organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration usually only quantify use of MDMA or Ecstasy, not molly specifically. But molly appears to be gaining popularity.
As the owner of a film company that shoots music videos and festivals, Evan often sees molly in use at shows.
And even for someone who doesn't consider himself to be an avid drug user, he said he found it easy to get his hands on some molly.
"All I had to do was text a friend," Evan said.
Because MDMA has long been associated with raves, the mainstream popularity of electronic dance music also contributed to molly's rising reputation, DanceSafe's Messer said.
In 2011, about 25 kilograms of molly worth at least $525,000 were recovered after a DEA investigation of a large-scale drug trafficking operation based in Syracuse, New York, a college town. The bust led to charges against 20 people.
Penn State University Police Chief Tyrone Parham said he and his officers first heard anecdotes about molly in 2011.
Parham said it's hard to get a real idea of how many students have used molly. Officers can catch users of marijuana -- the most common drug on Penn State's campus, according to Parham -- in the act because of the drug's conspicuous odor. But it's difficult to know if a student has misused molly because officers are often called after the drug has already been ingested -- if they are even called at all.
"I think it's one of those things, not just here but across the country, (that's hard) to get an understanding of how prevalent it is," he said.
A name with innocent appeal
Some consider the name picked for this white powder a clever marketing strategy: "Molly" carries both the innocent appeal of the girl next door and the implication that the drug is always pure MDMA. But because the chemical makeup of molly is often altered, taking the drug is dangerous, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
"(Suppliers) are making it look like something that is safe and easy to take, but in many cases, you're playing Russian roulette," Payne said.
And although MDMA tastes, smells and affects you differently than other drugs would, without having experience with each molly variation, there's no easy way to tell if the substance you take is pure, Messer said. But even as its pure form molly, MDMA can be dangerous.
The DEA sees MDMA supplied from Asia, Canada, even the Netherlands.
"You have no idea the lab environment these chemicals or substances were produced in," Payne said. "If they knew where things were produced, they might think twice."
Some drug users have said they prefer molly over other illicit drugs because of the limited negative side effects they've experienced.
"Honestly, if I were to pick a drug out of anything else to do, I would pick molly," Evan said. "Molly has a lot to do with loud music and seeing lights -- getting excited about seeing something that's already cool and making it cooler."
There are no withdrawal symptoms associated with MDMA, and because prolonged use eventually begins to diminish users' highs, the risk of physical addiction is low, said Prentiss, the Passages rehab CEO. MDMA addictions make up less than 5% of the company's clientele, he said.
And hospital visits spurred by MDMA use appear to be few and far between. Less than 4% of e