Molly — also known as ecstasy, MDMA, X and XTC — is a synthetic drug that’s popular at clubs and music festivals.
Young people usually take the party drug for its euphoric and mild hallucinogenic effects. Getting high on molly, a drug that has been around since the 1980s, is often referred to as “rolling.”
A person who’s rolling has high energy levels and feels more sociable and extroverted than usual. Molly also makes people extra affectionate. People who are high on ecstasy often feel a need to be touched or to touch others. Increased sensitivity to light and sound are also typical.
Molly can also cause a number of undesirable physical effects, including jaw clenching, nausea, sweating and panic attacks. In rare cases, people using molly overheat, experience seizures and lose consciousness.
While MDMA is derived from amphetamines, which are stimulants, the drug also has chemical similarities to mescaline, a hallucinogen that comes from the peyote cactus.
As a result, molly has both stimulant and psychedelic effects.
MDMA’s effects stem from the way it affects brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which send messages between brain cells.
While MDMA boosts levels of three chemicals in the brain — dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine — it’s the excess serotonin that is believed to be responsible for MDMA’s mood-lifting effects. Serotonin is intricately involved in mood regulation, sleep, pain and appetite.
The effects of molly occur within 30 to 45 minutes of taking the drug and gradually wear off in about three to six hours. But because of the drug’s long half-life, molly stays in your system even longer and can be detected in urine for up to four days.
Chronic or heavy use of MDMA may cause long-lasting effects, including psychiatric problems.
It may be difficult to detect if a person is using ecstasy, but you may notice behavioral and physical changes.
Observable signs of MDMA use can include:
Although many people perceive molly as a relatively safe drug, it’s not. MDMA can cause a number of uncomfortable and dangerous side effects.
Acute effects of MDMA include:
Ecstasy can also cause an array of troubling psychiatric symptoms, including hyperactivity, mild hallucinations, delirium, psychosis and feelings of disconnectedness from one’s own body (depersonalization).
Using MDMA can even kill a person. An analysis of 80 ecstasy-related deaths in a 2001 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed a variety of causes for those fatalities, including heatstroke, bleeding disorders, liver failure, abnormal heart rhythms, strokes, accidents and suicide.
Unlike many other illegal drugs, MDMA can cause a fatal overdose when people take what is considered a normal recreational dose. As a result, there’s really no safe dose of molly.
Signs and symptoms of an MDMA overdose include:
Molly is also unpredictable because it can contain dangerous drugs and chemicals other than MDMA.
According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, MDMA is frequently contaminated with other chemicals that make it more deadly.
The authors of the study examined data collected by DanceSafe, an organization that tests drugs for contaminants at music festivals across the country. Of the 529 samples of suspected molly collected between 2010 and 2015, only 60 percent contained MDMA.
In a 2015 report by ABC News, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman said that only about 13 percent of molly being marketed on the streets is actually MDMA. Many of the substances being peddled as molly are actually counterfeit drugs with a different chemical makeup that are smuggled in from China.
While the high from ecstasy wears off within a few hours, some side effects may occur days or even weeks later.
That’s because the surge of serotonin that accompanies a dose of ecstasy results in a depletion of that important neurotransmitter. As a result, people who regularly use MDMA sometimes experience depression, anxiety, confusion, poor memory and other problems.
Other long-term effects of ecstasy include:
Some research suggests that heavy use of MDMA can cause permanent neurological damage.
A 2006 report in the journal Psychosomatics described the case of a British man who took an estimated 40,000 ecstasy tablets over the course of nine years and dabbled in other drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.
Seven years after quitting ecstasy, the man was experiencing severe short-term memory problems. The London doctors who cared for him could find no other cause, such as an underlying psychiatric condition, to account for his symptoms.
While it’s unclear if MDMA is addictive, some signs point in that direction.
Animal studies have shown that animals will self-administer the drug when given the opportunity, though not to the degree they would indulge in cocaine, for example.
In addition, some people have reported experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, appetite loss and difficulty concentrating when they stop using ecstasy. Withdrawal is one of the hallmarks of drug dependence.
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