“Molly” Is Not Your Friend


Posted in: Hot Topics, Teenagers, Young Adults

Topics: Addiction & Substance Misuse

All too often there is a new or modified drug that makes headlines not because of its therapeutic benefits, but because of its propensity to kill teens and young adults. In recent months, this has ranged from “bath salts” (mephedrone), to “K2” or “Spice” (synthetic marijuana), and most recently, to a drug with the deceivingly attractive and benign-sounding name, “Molly” (a form of MDMA, or “ecstasy”). Your cute little sister she is not; overdoses and deaths related to the consumption of “Molly” have made primetime news in several cities. So, what is Molly, who is at risk, and what are the dangers?

The name “Molly” is a popular abbreviation for the word “molecule,” and the drug itself is a crystalline powder extract of the main psychoactive ingredient in the more widely misused drug known as MDMA, or “ecstasy” (“X” for short). It’s most often snorted, but can also be taken orally. It is thus a purified and more potent offspring of MDMA—and has proven to be much more lethal. Like its parent, it produces a seductive feeling of sociability and warmth, as well as a boost in energy, which is why it’s used widely at dance clubs and parties. Unlike many other drugs to which people can be become addicted, addiction to Molly is very rare; the drug is used typically in an intermittent and sporadic pattern. Consequently, the risks are associated with acute intoxication, as are the side effects from its use. On the less harmful side, Molly can cause teeth grinding, dehydration, increased anxiety, insomnia, fever and loss of appetite. On the more severe end, Molly can cause hyperthermia, seizures, increased blood pressure and depression stemming from an acute drop in serotonin levels (a mood-regulating brain chemical) in the days following consumption. It’s the hyperthermia and seizures that were most likely the cause of death in recent cases reported in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Young people are most at risk of experimenting with Molly. MDMA, the drug from which it’s derived, has enjoyed a popular and deceptively benevolent image in part because it has not resulted in widespread mortalities. However, while not resulting in deaths, MDMA is far from harmless, being responsible for almost 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011. The perception young people have had of MDMA being “a safe high” is not justified, and has spilled over dangerously to the more concentrated from of the drug, Molly.

Both MDMA/ecstasy and Molly are dangerous, and can be deadly. Molly may be the last friend you ever meet. Talk to your kids—parents really can be the anti-drug.

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Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

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