FeatureOctober 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

There’s Something about Molly

The rise of MDMA and electronic dance music at Penn

Dude!” one boy grabbed his friend’s hand. “I’m rolling face right now!” His friend nodded and swayed into him, putting an arm around the first boy’s shoulder. “Me too, man.”

The two were shirtless and sweaty, covered in glitter and donning glow stick necklaces. Their attention turned to the stage where Pretty Lights, the aptly named electronic–music act, ended the packed Popped! Festival with explosive visualizations and ground–shaking electro–beats. 15 or so Penn students surrounded the boys.

They all shook their bodies in waves with wide eyes. They were mesmerized by the lights, sounds and flying limbs. They had all eaten Molly — the street name for pure MDMA. They were rolling.

It’s almost impossible to pinpoint Molly’s mainstream entrance at Penn. It could have been last Spring Fling’s Delancey block party where half of the attendees featured bright paints and dilated pupils. Or this summer, when Swedish DJ Avicii trotted up and down the east coast, stopping in Philly and playing sold out shows where Penn students danced on the shoulders of one another. Or this semester’s paint party, DayGlow, where two campus dealers sold dirty Molly to more than a dozen students. Perhaps Molly’s presence was solidified three weeks ago at the Popped! where peers rolled next to one another sandwiched in the Liacouras Center.

Molly — the ‘pure’ form of ecstasy — has invaded Penn’s mainstream party culture. Those that roll on Molly can eat, snort or parachute (fold the powder into a tissue and swallow) the drug. At an average street price of $15 a hit — 0.1 of a gram — Molly is a synthesized methamphetamine that floods users’ brains with excess serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with happiness.

Dr. Neta Zach, a professor who teaches the course entitled ‘Drugs, Brain and Mind’ explains Molly’s effects: “You would find things hilarious and you would also have an inflated self–esteem. You see sensory changes in the environment and you feel a sense of well–being, an interest in the environment, a sense that the world is good.”
Dr. Zach comments that MDMA can be therapeutic, “It is reexamined for cases of posttraumatic stress disorder to alleviate some of the anxiety. It helps you approach memories in a context of well–being and care.”

It’s also a party drug.

According to a 2010 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 12.4 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have taken MDMA at least once.

With minimal immediate dangers — among them dehydration, dry mouth and jaw clenching — those on Molly can experience three to four hours of synthetic and uninterrupted bliss.

Nancy*, a junior from the Northeast who can’t count how many times she’s rolled, first tried Molly the summer after her freshman year. She remembers her first experience at Camp Bisco, an upstate New York music festival started by trance fusion band, the Disco Biscuits. “I didn’t even know I had those dance moves! I was just dancing my heart out, loving the music; it couldn’t have been better.” Since then, she’s noticed an increase in Molly’s presence on campus. “The first time I did it at Penn was for a frat downtown last year — Darude was playing. I saw all these kids chewing on straws,” a common alleviation for Molly’s jaw clenching side effect.

The rise in popularity of dubstep, electronic and house music is slowly overtaking that of traditional rock music. Tiesto, a DJ that costs more to see than Bob Dylan, found his face on a recent issue of the L.A. Times. Deadmau5, a DJ who performs while wearing a gigantic mouse head, played a jam–packed finale at this year’s Lollapalooza. Coldplay closed the same stage two nights before to a tame crowd of fans. Even at Popped!, Pretty Lights ended the Saturday night set with kids clawing to get on stage. The night before, the Shins closed the night softly to a half– full stadium. These events create an opportunity for Molly users to roll in an environment where flashing lights and infectious dance beats propel drug use. MDMA becomes not just socially acceptable but almost a prerequisite.

Evan*, a freshman from the south, first tried Molly with friends from high school when Skrillex — an electronic musician who appeared on the October cover of Spin’s rave generation issue — came to town.

Earlier this month, Evan had tickets for the September 23 Deadmau5 concert. He bought Molly through a delivery service that an RA in the Quad referred him to. He spent $210 on 1.75 grams of Molly for himself and a few freshman friends.

But it’s not always about the music.

For Sophia*, an engineering junior who says she’s rolled at least ten times, Molly is about introspection. “I don’t think I’ve rolled at as many concerts as most people.” For her, the emotional realizations are more important than the music–enhancing effects. “I think people are looking for something slightly different when they’re on Molly. It’s a chiller feeling. It’s more of the intimacy, more of the introspective, making connections with other people. You can sit down in a chair on Molly and talk to someone and be extremely happy.”

She describes her best roll with big eyes and fast talk. “We were driving a boat at one of my friend’s lake houses. You could see the sun coming up and the light was coming through the trees. It was flashing like a natural strobe light effect. You’re getting spray in your face. It’s all the stuff you get at raves, but in nature.”

When asked if Nancy’s friends at Penn have taken Molly, she nods heartily. “Everyone. I mean tons. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. It’s the same at other schools too.” While it’s impossible to claim that “everyone” at Penn is doing Molly, its presence is noticeable.

Travis*, a college junior who sells Molly intermittently, claims, “It’s like saying everyone smokes pot. It seems like they do but obviously not everyone does.” Travis sold about 80 hits of Molly (eight grams) at last year’s Spring Fling, earning him approximately $1,500 in profits. He ingested about 10 hits, or one gram, of Molly that weekend. Travis, like many campus drug dealers, is in a fraternity. Most of his customers were referrals from his frat brothers.

Greek life — roughly 30 percent of Penn’s undergraduate student body — seems to be a driving force behind upped Molly usage. Three fraternities whose brothers lived in houses on Delancey Street threw last Fling’s block party. In addition to standard frat party keg stands, house doors were open to students who snorted Molly off glass tables. Dozens of girls sported sorority–lettered neon jerseys and rolled to the beats of Penn band, Slow Dance Chubby — comprised of members of five different fraternities.

Patrick*, a junior from California who is unaffiliated with the Greek system, claims, “Electronic music helped bring acceptance to mainstream MDMA use. The Greek scene appears extremely mainstream to me. When you start doing things like ecstasy and that’s mainstream of course people are going to do it… because it’s great”

Patrick remembers that he used to take three or four ecstasy pills a night when going to raves in high school. Now, a few years older, he does  Molly two or three times a year and appreciates the creed of Ann and Sasha Shulgin, a married couple credited with the popularization of MDMA in the 1970s. After a deep drag on a marijuana vaporizer Patrick says, “It should be a really special experience and a time to reevaluate and remember what’s important in your life and remember all the love and stuff.”

Molly’s ‘purity’ may attract those unlikely to try hard drugs with more dangerous reputations like cocaine or heroin. Evan reiterates, “People who’ve never smoked before — hardly drank — just did Molly because they were like, ‘There’s nothing really wrong with it because it’s not cut with heroin or anything.’ It lets people feel better about it.”

But Molly trips aren’t always cuddle puddles and rainbow stickers.

Because of its powder form, buyers may not know that seemingly ‘pure’ MDMA could be cut with anything. Nancy recounts two of her female friends who bought what they thought was ecstasy from a sophomore fraternity dealer for this fall’s DayGlow. “He told them it was ecstasy but it was powder in a capsule. He kept confusing it and then said that it was cut with speed.” Both girls vomited after eating the powder.

There was no way to hold him accountable. He sold another sophomore boy two hits of Molly for last month’s Deadmau5 concert. The buyer stumbled around the venue for three hours unable to distinguish between his friends and strangers.” Not exactly the trip he signed up for.

Though bad trips on actual MDMA are rare, Dr. Zach explains that the immediate after effects can be traumatizing for users. “You’ll have several hours of an episode where you feel depressed,” a period that most users call the ‘comedown.’ She continues, “There’s a sense of lack of love, lack of optimism, lack of well–being.”

And the long–term effects aren’t well understood. Dr. Zach claims, “Even with one use you can see a disturbance in memory — mostly verbal and declarative memories.” The rest is unknown.

Sophia cares about the risks. She    researches Molly in her spare time and frequently checks Erowid.com, a user–generated drug information hub. She comments on Molly’s healing power, “I recently read it can cure cancer. But the amount it would take could kill you.” According to Erowid.com, it is possible to overdose on MDMA, especially if mixed with MAOIs — a type of prescribed antidepressant.

Sophia realizes her love affair with Molly can’t last forever. She says she ate 0.5 grams — a hefty dose for a five foot four girl who probably weighs 110 pounds soaking wet — at Avicii’s Philadelphia show this summer. “It totally scared me and it wasn’t even the best roll I’ve had.”


Pretty Lights ended their hour–long set with crowd favorite, “Finally Moving.” Fluorescent lights screeched the crowd awake and fans stumbled from the arena into the crowded SEPTA station.

Penn students filed like transfixed cattle back to campus. “What next?” cried a senior boy covered in pink glitter whose eyes bulged like golf balls.

The 30 or so students parted ways at 40th and Walnut — some to continue dancing at a fraternity graffiti party, some to admire laser lights at an off–campus house and some to smoke weed to offset the after–effects.

They know they’ll have to come down eventually, but for now they roll on.

*All names presented in this article have been changed to protect the anonymity of the student.

29 People have left comments on this post

By Paul Kleiman on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Very interesting article, Jess! While it’s definitely not as established as it sounds like it is at UPenn, University of Texas certainly has a growing molly/ecstasy culture as well. Though I don’t roll, I have many friends that do, so it’s always fascinating to hear from different perspectives.

By Anon on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

So most of the risk stems from the sometimes questionable purity due to the lack of regulation. Solution: Legalize, tax, and regulate.

By deerhaus on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am By Common Sense on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Let’s do a little math here:

“Travis” sold 80 hits of molly during spring fling last year. Selling them at the street price of 15 dollars a hit means he made 1200 dollars, total. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but profit equals revenue minus cost, and I’m assuming Travis wasn’t getting the stuff for free. So even if he was selling the capsules at the exorbitant price of 20 dollars a hit, that would equate to 1600 dollars in revenue, implying that Travis must have purchased his 8 grams of molly for 1600-1500=100 total dollars, or $12.50 a gram. Hmm. That would make his markup 1600 percent. Let me tell you, dealing doesn’t work quite like that.

Just a word of advice to someone who may someday be a professional journalist, you should check your numbers before you publish an article, because it will get you in hot water.

By hi kitty on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

There is nothing particularly revelatory about this article. People have been taking ecstasy and dancing to electronic music for years. Raves like the Electric Daisy Carnival fill up colosseums. Why is there no mention of rave culture in this article? Have you been living under a rock?

By Alexa on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Jess, this is sooo good and so well reported!

By wannamaker on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Hey….Look at me, I’m taking drugs and dancing around like an idiot for hours on end. Doesn’t that sound like fun???

By anon on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

the other risk which the author fails to mention (in an otherwise solid article) is the fatal reaction that takes place when you mix mdma with any serotonin-enhancing medication. a LOT of penn students are taking anti-depressants for a variety of reasons and don’t know that the two can combine to elevate your core temp to about 106 and can result in death. i personally was smart enough to ask my doc about this before trying molly, which i would have done had i not been informed of the grave risk.

By kayak on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

i bet travis is in the 1%

By your momma on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

anon you’re full of it. “serotonin enhancing medication” isn’t a real term, nor does it make sense. keep talking down to people and telling yourself that you’re smart for asking your doctor if you should take ecstasy

By @your momma on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

her terminology may have been off but the concept was fairly correct. no need to get defensive, “your momma”!

By @your momma on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am By Jorge Curaioso on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Who the fuck is Molly?

By Dan on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

This isn’t just UPENN. There has been a MASSIVE upswing in MDMA use throughout the United States. I’ve visited college campuses of less than 1,000 students where the one dealer on campus is selling more than 1,000 pills a week.

By psk-alum on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

sounds better than the penn heroin boom of 2002-2004, or the snowstorm of 2005-2008

By your momma on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

no one’s being defensive, it was an offensive strike. it’s unnecessary that anyone ever talk swaggeringly about what they do not know much about. to you, @yourmomma, just because searching google for something in quotes produces results, that doesn’t mean it’s a real or accurate term. and finally, “fairly” accurate should be replaced with “theoretically possible” or “partially true”. it’s a pretty big claim to call a condition fatal (not potentially fatal but FATAL) without naming the condition itself (which I assume was supposed to be serotonin syndrome and not the Call-Fleming thing in your link)…or demonstrating any real evidence/reasoning.

combining SSRIs and MDMA is more typically seen as a poor idea because it makes the user unable, or less able, to roll. maybe the original poster should thank their doctor for saving them the money it would of cost to buy molly that wouldn’t work, instead of for saving their life. many many combinations of drugs (including with alcohol) can be dangerous or more dangerous than a single drug on its own. that should go without saying. it’s possible, though rare, to get serotonin syndrome from SSRIs and adderall combined. and I’d be willing to bet that’s much more common here at Penn than people combining SSRIs and MDMA.

most importantly, why should anyone fill a debate about drugs with partial information and poorly-researched, ill-thought-out claims? there’s already enough of that in this world…

By 5k on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Your Momma-
The class of medications the author was referring to as ‘serotonin enhancing medication’ does not just refer to SSRIs. You are correct to state that SSRI interaction will reduce the perceived positive effects of MDMA ingestion, but your argument is irrelevant as it fails to consider the crux of what the author was driving at, namely that taking MDMA with MAOIs can cause a severe reaction and possibly death.
You are right to say, however, that mixing drugs (legal with legal, legal with illegal, illegal with illegal) almost always increases, often exponentially, the risk of adverse reactions.
If you are going to put anything in your body, always research it. Information is the best preventative measure out there.
Finally, legalizing, taxing and regulating is far and away a better idea in terms of pure harm reduction than the current policies.

By Al on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Molly doesn’t cost nearly as much as this article states. On a really expensive day id say you would maybe pay 10 per .1 and that you can get full grams for 90 or below. 7 Grams should cost no more than 450 and 8 would then be no more than 515. At best you can sell points for 15 but most likely you will be receiving the standard 10 per .1 so 1200-800 would be the range for the revenue making your profits fall between 685 and 285 dollars. Even at this pricing which is an over estimate there is no absolute way he could make 1500 dollars off of 8 grams. The only way he could make 1500+ would be if he purchased an ounce (28 grams) at about 1300 and then sold the rest for 10 a point, the standard pricing for any rave or show i’ve been at (50+), which would be risky and time consuming ultimately leading him to make a deal with some one to get rid of some bulk at a discounted price thus lowering his profit margins considerably and making it even harder to reach the profit level of 1500 US dollars. I guess i could be low balling other states pricing but I feel like colorado is a very large hub for Electronic Music so I think it would be fair to attribute the pricing of the drugs to the state in which a majority is taken thanks too the Shows around town.

By john on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Molly is where the moneys at with the right connect. There are 100 dollar pounds floating around my area which equates to grams for 25 cents and points for 3 cents. Its almost pure prrofit when you consider a point is worth 8 dollars and a gram 65 but kids are paying 10 to 15 a point and 80 to a bill for a gram. So yeah “Travis” could of easily made a profit like he did

By DevIntheSkywithDiamonds on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

MDMA has been around for a long time. In many different forms. So has electronic music. Just because it’s whats “in” now means more kids on drugs. More YOUNG kids getting a hold of illegal drug that most certainly aren’t pure! Back in the day one capsule of molly would have you spun for 8 hours straight. Now people are eating full grams just to feel good. Modern day hippies- where the MUSIC, PEOPLE, AND DRUGS ARE DIRTIER!

By illigal drugs on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

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I really hope to view the same high-grade content from
you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own website now ;)

By plurface on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Maybe the problem isn’t MDMA, since people have been rolling since the 80′s/early 90′s and problems are relatively rare. Maybe the problem is the “legal alternatives” (aka bath salts and “research chemicals”) that someone can buy for cheap, legally, and turn around and sell it as ‘molly’ and make a huge profit even though these drugs are dangerous and a few milligrams could be the difference between a psychedelic experience and a horrible time/near death experience. Maybe if we taught kids how to stay safe while partying (don’t buy drugs AT the rave, if you want to roll buy the x beforehand from someone you know, then buy a marquis test and see what you actually have so you can make an informed decision instead of ingesting a random powder and possibly end up in a hospital) instead of teaching absence young adults wouldn’t be clueless. In England there are PSA instructing teenagers that if their friend has passed out drinking, turn them onto their sides so they don’t choke to death on their vomit. This is far more constructive than saying “dont drink” because if someone wants to try something they are going too, only now they know to how to save their friend’s life. Teaching absences doesn’t work with sex, it doesn’t work with drugs, it just doesn’t work, and this situation is no different. Teaching someone to be safe isn’t “encouraging” behavior. It won’t MAKE anyone go out and do anything, if anything it will spark a generation of people who know how to take care of each other. Where the person taking a drug they have no clue about is the minority. “Checking erowid regularly” is bullshit by the way. There is only so much you can learn and the site hasnt been updated in years. If she really cared about her body she’d own a marquis test, she’d be sending in samples to pillreport and become part of the online psychonaut communities like Bluelight, not checking a website that hasn’t been updated in 12 years.

By John on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

College kids are ruining the scene and house music itself now. Stop talking about going to raves. It’s a club. I’m 26….these little 18 yr old college nights are the worse. Stop dancing with us. And stop rolling with us. No one cares about your bro step, BRO

By Icon racing on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Hey what’s up I’m on Molly now!! I feel great people like
Wannamaker have no clue what fun is and will never know what real fun is! Thinks he knowers what fun is! What’s fun wannamaker? Watching a movie with ur man eating popcorn or lady what ever team u bat for. Or is playing bourd games with the family? Lol that’s fun one E!!(lol) no that’s not my fun and it’s not most people that come to this sites fun!!

By Icon racing on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Real fun is doing molly!! Or other drugs of ur chosie and the sex we’ll as all users know it comes with the package! (Extract that is and mushrooms to!! I have found out once u finally pop!!! Lol right girls and it’s big pop when ur man on x or a drug stimulant! ( big pop =cum load) am I right about that girls?? Ok we’ll you heard what fun is to a guy on Molly as he typed this message!! That’s what I call fun so fuck u wannamaker really hope u come back and read this!! Almost did note write anything out dated but when I sent in my last message the date said 2011 that’s so wrong today I will note is 2014 march 7!!! From Vermont at 313 am

By Icon racing on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Did not prove read that my bad! A lot jumps out bit what I see off the bat is extract should be x that is

By Tom on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

Thanks for sharing your useful knowledge!

By balls deep on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

oh you know we glitch serotonin

By a on October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of
your website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
But maybe you could a little more in the way
of content so people could connect with it better.
Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.

Maybe you could space it out better?

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