Dangers and Allure of Molly

Wesleyan's president warns students to steer clear of the party drug and to turn in who is dealing it on campus, but this weekend's hospitalizations were not the first for the university.

February 24, 2015

Wesleyan University is urging students to come forward with information about who is selling the party drug known as Molly on campus after nearly a dozen students were hospitalized this weekend after using the drug. It’s the second time Molly has led to a string of hospitalizations at Wesleyan in less than a year.

“Please, please stay away from illegal substances, the use of which can put you in extreme danger,” Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, said in a campus-wide e-mail Monday. “One mistake can change your life forever. If you have friends who are thinking about trying these kinds of drugs, remind them of the dangers. If you are aware of people distributing these substances, please let someone know before more people are hurt.”

Ten Wesleyan students and two campus visitors received medical treatment Sunday after using the drug. Police said Monday that two of the victims, including a Wesleyan sophomore, were listed in critical condition, and two others were listed in serious condition. Four people were released, and eight remain hospitalized.

In September, Wesleyan’s Davison Health Center sent an e-mail to the university's 3,000 students warning them about the effects of Molly after students were hospitalized over the previous two weekends due to complications from using the drug. The university did not say how many students received medical treatment then. “The problems that Molly can cause are serious and life threatening,” the center warned at the time. “They are also unpredictable.”

Users of Molly often consider the drug to be a pure form of Ecstasy, and the drug is marketed as such, with its active ingredient being touted as MDMA, a stimulant that produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria and empathy and creates distortions in sensory and time perception. But Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University, said that users rarely purchase what's advertised.

“Molly was originally marketed as pure MDMA,” Hall said. “I often say that that was pure crap.”

Over the last few years, the makeup of what’s sold as Molly has varied greatly. Labs in South Florida tested hundreds of Molly capsules being distributed there between 2011 and 2014, Hall said, and found that what was being consumed in the area was largely methadone and methylone, not MDMA.

Sometimes students aren’t buying anything related to what they believe is pure Ecstasy, said Barbara Kistenmacher, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Kistenmacher is also executive director of the New York campus of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, where she oversees a center focused on college-aged patients suffering from drug addiction.

“There are hundreds of different types of synthetic drugs and they all look alike,” Kistenmacher said. “Students don’t even know what they’re buying. And when you’re talking about young adults, that’s particularly concerning, because the brain is still developing until age 26. It’s potentially really harmful.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that Molly may also include cough suppressants, cocaine, caffeine, methamphetamine and the psychoactive ingredients contained in synthetic designer drugs known as bath salts.

It’s not just the potential variety of chemicals that could be inside a capsule that can be dangerous, but the amount of the drug the capsule contains. Casual users of Molly, Hall said, may not know how much they’re buying.

“Students might be thinking, ‘Everyone had it last week and it was a really fun experience so let’s do it again,’” Hall said. “But what goes into capsules is not often quality or quantity controlled. And it doesn’t take much of a difference between a little dose and medium dose to have dramatically differing effects.”

Those effects can include confusion, a racing pulse, muscle spasms, seizures and extreme increases in body temperature.

In 2013, students at the University of Virginia and Texas State University at San Marcos died while using Molly. Also that year, two students at the University of New Hampshire and Plymouth State University overdosed on the drug. “This is serious,” the University of New Hampshire’s vice president said at the time in an e-mail to students. “Two New Hampshire college students have died in the last week.”

The deaths prompted widespread concern that use of Molly was on the rise on college campuses.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that Molly has “seen a surge of interest in the past few years,” and that 12.8 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds have used MDMA before. The Monitoring the Future report on student drug use, a national study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, found last year that the number of students who say they use Ecstasy is increasing. About 5 percent of college students reported Ecstasy use in the prior 12 months. "Ecstasy use, after declining considerably between 2002 and 2007, from 9.2 percent annual prevalence to 2.2 percent, has made somewhat of a comeback on campus," the report said.

Kistenmacher, of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, said that two out of every three residents at its college-aged center have tried Molly at least once. “It is a popular club drug and has been popular for quite some time,” she said. “But we’re certainly seeing more reports related to abuse happening, and it’s marketed toward college students and young adults.”

Several students at Wesleyan, who asked not to be identified, said this week that Molly use is not rampant across campus, but that it is popular among certain social groups. “I believe the person that willingly and knowingly provided what turned out to be near lethal drugs has a lot to answer for, but an overall crackdown seems fractious rather than healing," one student said. "I think the school should ensure that people are fully aware of the dangers involved in buying Molly when it is not always clear how safe Molly is."

Hall, of the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities, offered similar advice.

"Colleges should spread a message of awareness of the dangers, rather than strict prohibition," he said. "This drug is rapidly changing. What was the most popular substance in Molly last year could be totally different next year. Or even next weekend."


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