“I’ve just always been the type of person who likes to try new things,” said Elena.* “Molly was no different. It was Genderfuck, and I thought, ‘This will be cool. I’m going to have a really good time.’”
After three hours of what she described as “intense euphoria,” dancing to the beat of the party’s music and socializing with other party-goers, Elena started to feel ill. She tried to communicate this to her friends, but she found herself unable to form words. Elena spent the rest of the night vomiting. Some comparatively sober friends helped her out of Sharples and to her dorm, where she lay next to a trash can until morning. Elena does not remember anything after 11 p.m. but says she trusts the friends who told her what had happened.
Elena’s story is not unique. According to a 2012 report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), almost 13 percent of college-aged individuals will try molly in their lifetimes, and molly-related hospitalizations in this demographic have increased by 75 percent since 2004.
Molly, known medically as MDMA, is a popular recreational drug often likened to ecstasy in its purest form. According to the ONDCP, MDMA was originally used as a component of psychotherapy to treat military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug was determined to be dangerous, however, and was taken off the market in the 1980s. Since then, pure MDMA has become something of a party culture myth, as dealers and consumers seek out the purest, medical-grade version of the drug.
Demand for molly amongst 18-25-year-olds has risen in tandem with the surging popularity of electronic dance music (EDM). The bass lines, light shows and noise volume of EDM concerts are believed to complement the heightened sensory experience caused by the drug.
“Because the effects of molly are related to interconnectedness, euphoria and alterations in perceptions, it has been shown to be most popular in music venues,” explained Josh Ellow, the college’s alcohol and other drugs counselor and educator. “But since the 1980s, molly has also been making a resurgence on college campuses.”
According to Mark*, a student at the college who most recently used the drug during last weekend’s “Swatglow” party, a context as socially intimate as Swarthmore is the “perfect” place to experience molly.
“We’re sort of sheltered here,” Mark said. “We’re in this bubble, and after some time it starts to feel like every Saturday night is the same. When there is so little variation in venue, people and atmosphere, it sort of shakes things up when you do molly.”
While he said he knew of some dealers on campus, Mark explained that he usually gets his molly in Philadelphia.
“I’m not a regular user, but when I want to go to a concert or something, it’s usually pretty easy to get molly,” Mark said. “I know a guy at the [University of Pennsylvania], and I can usually get .2 grams for around $40. [Penn] is obviously a much bigger school, so there’s just a lot more of it there than here.”
Nina*, another student at the college, purchases molly in a similar fashion. Last year, she and her friends used a dealer at UPenn various times to buy the drug before EDM concerts. In May, she explained, she approached her dealer about purchasing some molly before a concert headlined by dutch DJ sensation Armin van Buuren, and the dealer mentioned that he was now buying his supply from someone else. Nina had not had any unenjoyable experiences in the past, so she trusted the dealer when he told her that the drug was essentially the holy grail of party culture, pure MDMA. When she and her friends took the drug at the concert the following weekend, none of them felt good.
“I’m pretty sure it was laced with meth or something,” she said. “It was really scary. I just felt so awful and weird. I felt like I had no control over myself, and I just wanted it to be over. It usually takes around six hours to come down from molly, and I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait for this to be over.’”
Nina’s experience speaks to one of the primary concerns healthcare professionals have with molly use: the very high possibility that what the consumer is taking is not actually molly.
“MDMA is very different from the ‘pressed pills’ that are marketed with luxurious logos stamped on them,” said Ellow. “These versions typically have buffering drugs, which may include everything from caffeine, to wax, to meth.”
Often, even the dealers themselves do not know what they are selling.
Robert*, a student at the college who deals molly, is one such provider.
“There are a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, my shit is so pure,’ but it’s probably not. There is this conception that there is perfect molly somewhere, but that doesn’t exist. As far as I know,” added Robert, who tries each new batch before selling it, “none of my molly has made people feel really sick.”
Ben,* another student at the college with experience dealing molly, explained that the people who get sick most often are those that do not know their limits.
“The biggest problem is that people don’t know how much to use,” he said. “I always tell people the ideal start amount if it’s your first time is .2 grams. People do that once and then they think they can do double or triple that the next time.”
Still, experience with the drug is not the only factor people should be taking into account when they do molly, Ben explained.
“You need to factor in your height and body weight. People really have to know themselves well before they should ever to do something like molly,” Ben said.
“It’s too much sensory overload to try it out for the first time in a rave. People should try it out in a space they feel comfortable and where they know their surroundings.”
Both Ben and Robert found that their sales increased before large EDM concerts in Philadelphia. But many students at the college, including Nina and Elena, first tried molly at parties on campus.
While neither student sought medical attention after their experiences with molly at the college, others have not been so lucky. Beth Kotarski, director of the college’s Worth Health Center, said that in the past, the health center has handled many drug-related medical emergencies. Whether or not they were related specifically to molly could not be divulged.
Kotarski explained that when accidental overdoses occur, the many components of the college’s medical response team work together to help the student.
“We follow very clear medical plans for getting students support through the hospital or through drug counseling,” she said.
According to Mike Hill, director of Public Safety at the college, Public Safety officers have also had exposure to both the medical and criminal aspects of molly-related incidents on campus. Hill could not elaborate on specific cases but said that in the past, Public Safety has responded to drug-related medical emergencies as well as the purchase and sale of drugs on campus.
“Certainly there have been instances in which we have responded to incidents of drug and alcohol abuse,” Hill explained. “Any kind of illegal activity must be investigated, and local law enforcement may be involved.”
While Ben no longer deals, Robert explained that he has never been too worried about Public Safety’s disciplinary threat because he runs his operation according to the mantra: “small scale, friends only.”
“I’ve never felt like I’m doing a large enough operation to have serious concern, but sometimes traveling with it can be nerve-wracking,” Robert said. “I feel pretty safe selling on campus, but I make a point to not sell it off-campus because that’s how you get arrested.”
Robert, who originally started selling molly to pay for books, said the business has not been incredibly lucrative. Usually, he barely makes more than what was needed to purchase the pills in the first place. Still, he does not plan on stopping his operation any time soon. With four months of classes left and many of the college’s larger social events yet to come, Robert does not expect that student consumption of molly will halt any time soon.
The statements of the students interviewed do not seem to contradict this prediction.
“I was just stupid about it because it was my first time,” Elena explained of her molly-related illness last spring. “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try it again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try it again at this year’s Genderfuck.”
* These names are pseudonyms.