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Chasing Molly
  • October 20, 2013 : 00:10
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The mystery powder in the clear capsule cost $10, a dead giveaway it wasn’t the substance the dope peddler was claiming it was. Nobody sells the real deal for that price. Examining it under the light, one could see yellowish rice-shaped crystals shifting around inside the half-filled capsule. It didn’t even look like the genuine article.

“How many do you want?” asked Fernando, a stubby drug dealer with chubby hamster cheeks and a neatly trimmed goatee.

“Just one. Are you sure this is real?”

“Don’t worry, this shit is fire,” he said.

On a drug-fogged night in late August, I found myself surrounded by a young crowd at a party in South Beach. While New Order’s “Blue Monday” played in the background, I was trying to ignore the loud conversation going on around me so I could focus on my mission: the hunt for the magic molecule called molly—the supposedly purer, allegedly more potent crystalline form of a drug that used to be called ecstasy (or MDMA). Just as methamphetamine was nicknamed “tina” to appeal to a more upmarket crowd, molly is simply ecstasy rebranded with a cute girl’s name, the better to sell it to a new generation. Contrary to what many users believe, molly is not a new drug (night crawlers were snorting powdered MDMA as far back as the early 1980s), and the form the drug takes (pills, powder, capsules) has little bearing on its purity, as I was about to find out.

Not that I intended to consume the product. The last time I took what I was told was pure MDMA, the active ingredient in molly, it turned out to be methamphetamine, and I spent an uncomfortable New Year’s Eve grinding my teeth and twitching like Captain Jack Sparrow. What I intended to do was gather samples and test them with an over-the-counter drug-screening kit to see what was really being sold as molly in the pills-and-powder circus that is Miami Beach’s club scene.

The chance to analyze the unknown substance came a few hours later, at an afterparty at a friend’s apartment in a high-rise on Washington Avenue. “Hey, guys, wanna see something cool?” said my wife, Lera. “I got Fernando’s molly and I’m going to test it right now to see what’s in it. He said this shit is fire.”

Lera pulled out a silver packet containing a multidrug screening test, a plastic panel the size of a credit card that is commonly used to test urine samples for illegal chemicals but has been repurposed by drug connoisseurs to test the contents of molly. The best way to gauge what’s in a drug, of course, is to mail it to a professional laboratory for a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis and then wait for the results. But some of the chemicals turning up in molly these days are so exotic, even the most state-of-the-art facility can fail to detect all of them. At least with a portable screening kit you can find out straightaway if the drug you’ve bought contains any MDMA (though not the amount or its purity). You can also test for other common drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone.

Lera walked into the kitchen, where she opened the molly capsule and poured the crystals onto a plate. We could tell by its odor, like that of contaminated water, that this wasn’t MDMA. Pure molly is generally odorless or smells of aniseed, the result of the sassafras oil used to make the product. Judging by the distinctive stench emanating from the powder, it was most likely some form of synthetic cathinone, the family of chemicals that includes mephedrone and methylone, which are better known to the general public as bath salts.

Lera put about half the contents of the capsule into a coffee cup, poured in water and waited for the crystals to dissolve as her friends looked over her shoulder. She then tore open the silver package and placed the drug-testing kit in the solution. About a minute later, two pink lines appeared on the cocaine section of the panel, then two lines for marijuana and two lines for opiates. It was negative for all three. A single unmistakable line started to appear under methamphetamine, followed by another distinct line under MDMA.

“That’s what I thought,” said Lera. “You see, it came out positive for methamphetamine and MDMA, which is what bath salts will come out as on these tests.”

We concluded the substance was probably mostly synthetic cathinones. Dimitri, who had deejayed the party a few hours earlier, offered his verdict: “We took a bunch of Fernando’s mollies the other day and they didn’t have any effect on us. It’s not like it used to be back in the day. I can’t believe he’s selling us this shit.”

Over the past two years molly has become the drug of choice for a new generation. Why molly now? Why all the fuss about a drug that under different names has been a dance club staple for three decades?

There’s certainly no shortage of references to the drug on the electronic dance music scene. One of the most popular dance hits of the past year is Miami-based DJ Cedric Gervais’s “Molly,” which features the robotic voice of a woman blankly intoning, “Hi, I am looking for Molly. Do you know where I can find Molly? She makes my life happier. More exciting. She makes me want to dance.” From Kanye West to Trinidad James to Rick Ross, molly is portrayed as the happening drug for the hip-hop crowd. Ross had to apologize for his seeming advocacy of molly as a date-rape drug in the song “U.O.E.N.O”: “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it./I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” (The controversy surrounding the lyric was enough for Reebok to cancel an endorsement deal worth millions with the hip-hop impresario.)

Molly has become so mainstream that even a pop tart like Miley Cyrus feels comfortable singing about “dancing with molly” on her song “We Can’t Stop,” though the drug references were bleeped out during her performance at the Video Music Awards. And what would a pop trend be without a guest appearance by the queen of pop? Madonna jumped on the molly bandwagon last year when she named her 12th studio album MDNA and asked the crowd at 2012’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami, “How many people in this crowd have seen molly?” In the wake of the performance, progressive house music DJ Deadmau5 publicly criticized the aging diva for glamorizing drug use.

The molly phenomenon is also a marketing gimmick—drug dealers rebranding a product that had gotten a bad reputation because it was so heavily cut with other substances. According to the hype, molly is for the cool kids, the discerning consumers who don’t mind paying a premium to ensure quality, whereas ecstasy pills are for “e-tards,” the dance-floor proletariat who turned MDMA from a hippie tool for inner exploration into another excuse to get trashed on a Saturday night.

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read more: News, issue november 2013


  • Lace Face
    Lace Face
    this is one of the most accurate and descriptive molly articles i have read.
  • alex
    same shit that we used to take in the late 90s only renamed. Molly LOL
  • Leo
    WOW! Dope story. People popping molly not knowing whats in them. smh
  • Yazeed
    Great article, answers a lot of my concerns about that stupid drug.
  • Alex
    holy hell, now THIS is investigative journalism. rather than sensationalize the drug, it's great to hear someone took a bit of the scientific method to heart and explored what's actually in there. i can't believe people take this stuff regularly - meth?!this was a great piece. one of the first times i can honestly say i read Playboy for the articles.