Latest Ectasy version, ‘Molly’ raises worries

“Molly,” trending at dance clubs and colleges, has an innocent, sweet sounding name. But it’s actually an old drug with a new name.

“Molly” is a powder form of MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — also known as “Ecstasy.”

“Molly is emerging as the new designer drug parents need to be aware of,” said Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center. “What seems benign is really not benign. Parents need to be on the lookout for the language their kids may be using. You could hear, ‘Hey, anybody hear from Molly’ and that can be code for ‘did anyone score Molly?’ ”

Short for molecule, Molly is often referred to as the “hug drug” because the user may “get into touch with themselves and other people,” according to Gary Gudelsky, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who has researched MDMA’s effect the brain for more than two decades.

Molly is making the rounds in pop culture with artists including Kayne West and Rihanna mentioning Molly in songs.

The recent alleged rape at Morehouse College put a spotlight on “Molly.” Witnesses told police that the victim, a Spelman College freshman, occasionally took the drug and may have taken it that night. At least one witness described the woman’s behavior as out of character and others as out of control. Police charged three students with rape, though their lawyers say the men are innocent.

Ingesting the drug poses other dangers. In 2011, there were 62 emergency room visits across the state involving Ecstasy, according to the Georgia Poison Center. In 2012, there were 57 cases. This year by June, there were already 46 cases reported, putting the state on pace to far exceed recent years, according to Lopez. Lopez said the vast majority of these cases were in metro Atlanta. Users, he said, tend be teenagers and those in their 20s.

While ER visits associated with Ecstasy represent a tiny number of the 12,000 ER visits the Poison Center tracks, Lopez said he sees an emerging trend, and reason for concern.

Ecstasy was a popular drug of abuse at dance parties known as raves in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, the drug was in pill form, and some of those tablets had smiley faces or peace symbols. The drug was known for often being laced with other ingredients such as caffeine or methamphetamine. Experts say Molly, though often touted as pure, is often mixed with other drugs and ingredients, perhaps even more than the Ecstasy of yesteryear.

“This is not like a Tylenol capsule,” Lopez said. “These are dorm room chemists modifying these drugs and it could be cut with anything — talcum powder, bath salts, caffeine.”

It can be difficult, he said, for the medical community to know what a young person has ingested when he or she references “Molly.”

“We hear the term ‘Molly,’ but it’s like a Halloween bag of candy. We don’t know what’s really in there,” he said.

Lopez said the drug, which is selling for around $10 a capsule, is readily available, particularly in metropolitan areas like metro Atlanta.

“I can guarantee you if you go to one of those outdoor concert events around Atlanta, you will find someone selling it,” he said.

Gudelsky said Molly is a close chemical cousin of another street drug, methamphetamine, but slight differences in the chemical composition of these drugs elicit sharply different psychological and physiological responses. Meth, for example, releases a surge of dopamine causing an intense feeling of euphoria. MDMA, on the other hand, releases large amounts of serotonin, which influences mood and triggers the release of hormones that play important roles in love and social experiences. Or as Lopez puts it, it “makes you lovey-dovey.”

Gudelesky said where Meth is highly addictive and abusers “can quickly turn into emaciated strung-out, even violent drug seekers,” MDMA drugs are not as highly addictive and users are more likely to be recreational users of the drug. Still, high doses can elevate one’s body temperature and lead to organ failure and death. Research, he said, also shows heavy abuse of MDMA can cause long-lasting memory impairment.

“A large issue with potential neuronal damage produced by MDMA is the same as it is with other traumatic insults to the brain, namely, no one has been able to rescue brain neurons after they’ve been damaged,” Gudelsky said.

Dr. Paul Earley, an addiction medicine specialist in Atlanta, said Ecstasy drugs, in this case, Molly, are usually mixed with other drugs such as Oxycontin and cocaine.

Earley said while MDMA is not as addictive as opiate drugs, it can spark a desire for more, and more addictive, drugs. Earley said taking MDMA, you are around other people abusing drugs who may then introduce you to other drugs. Earley said while one-time Molly use may not cause long-term damage, using this drug can be particularly serious for people with depressive tendencies, heart conditions and other health problems.

Earley said he’s seeing Ecstasy, in the form of Molly, make a bit of a comeback. While Molly doesn’t pose the “huge problem,” he sees with Oxycontin addiction, it’s still a dangerous trend.

“Is it going to lead to people running down the streets and robbing banks? No. Are you taking a risk by taking something that has no oversight, no quality control? Yes … If you take it once, is there a tendency to take it a second or third time? Yes. And does it start the ball rolling down the hill? It sure does.”