ILLUSTRATION: UBIN LI Four much-publicized deaths earlier this summer put a national spotlight on Molly, the powder form of MDMA, the main drug in ecstasy pills. In August, two died at an electronic dance music festival in NYC called Electric Zoo, one at a Boston concert, and another at a D.C. nightclub. All deaths were linked to molly overdoses. When Mochi heard that MDMA use has been rising among high school students, and that in 2010 over 96 percent of the users were between ages 14 to 34, we decided to take a closer look.

The Basics

Colloquially, Ecstasy refers to MDMA in pill form, while Molly refers to the drug in powder form. This latter type has become increasingly popular, partly due to the perception that powder products are more pure—after all, MDMA by itself is a powder. The problem is that there’s no foolproof way to tell what’s actually in the product at hand, no matter which form it’s in. The drugs are always “cut,” or mixed, with other less expensive but equally (if not more) dangerous substances.

We won’t drone on about all the ways in which MDMA affects the body, so we recommend this engaging video from Buzzfeed. We do, however, still want to cover a few basics here:

As a stimulant, MDMA raises blood pressure and heart rate about an hour after you take it. People usually feel more alert, like they have a lot of energy, or very emotional, like everyone is their friend. Some minor effects include feeling nauseous, teeth grinding, or blurry vision. At a more serious level is both dehydration and over-hydration. Water intoxication–drinking fluids without electrolytes–can lead to seizures or, on the most extreme end, death. Another potentially fatal situation: when the body overheats to the extent of damaging the brain.

What it comes down to is that anyone who takes MDMA (or any other drug) never knows what he or she is truly getting into. Sometimes it’s fine. But many, many times, it’s not. And it only takes just one very bad batch to go from a night that you bounce back from to one you don’t.

Does that sound dramatic? Yes. Is it something you can say will never ever happen to you? No. As the above incidents and numbers show, bad things can and do happen to young people.

Harm Reduction & Staying Safe

The best way to avoid bad consequences of MDMA is, of course, to not take it, and there are organizations and government groups that focus on abstaining. But we’re choosing to look at what’s called “harmed reduction,” in the hopes of being a practical resource about being safer. As Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), puts it, “Some portion of the population will use drugs for a variety of reasons despite being told not to do so and that it’s illegal. Rather than turn our backs, we would rather teach them how to be safe, so they don’t wind up accidentally overdosing and dying.”

So how exactly can you stay as safe as possible?

“At the bare minimum, test the substances that you’re using,” says Ralston, referring to testing kits, often packaged discretely, that help identify what substances are in a product and are sold by organizations like DanceSafe, a nonprofit that promotes health and safety at events, and Bunk Police.

Other safe habits include choosing a designated driver who stays sober for the day and night, so that there’s always a person to get everyone home and get help if necessary. Take frequent breaks and check in with your body throughout the event.

Ralston adds, “If you feel faint or lightheaded, breathless, or very hot and you can’t calm down, you might be overdoing it. It could be simple heat stroke or drug related.” Particularly in these cases, don’t be afraid to seek medical help immediately from professionals. Their priority will always be your safety, rather than any legal action relating to drug use.

Finally, Missi Wooldridge, executive director of DanceSafe, makes this great point: “Take a little bit and always remember that less is more. You don’t need five pills or five hits to experience something.”

Changing Attitudes: A Note To Our Policy Makers and European Influence

Though attitudes toward harm reduction education are changing, a common criticism is that it encourages drug use. “People take drugs regardless of whether it’s legal or illegal,” Ralston reiterates.

She praises Europe’s pragmatism in approaching this scene. “They have mobile services where vans bring drug testing kits to where drug users are, like music facilities and nightclubs. Those have existed for a while and the sky hasn’t fallen,” she says. “They do the job they’re intended to do, the community doesn’t object, and then life goes on.”


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