Study: Party Drug ‘Molly’ Often Not Really Pure MDMA; Pill-Testing At Concerts Could Curb Use


New research shows “Molly” commonly found to contain bath salts


BALTIMORE — People who consider using drugs like ecstasy at music festivals and dance parties may be more likely to pass on a pill if they had the opportunity to test its potency and makeup, a recent study finds. That’s because many party drugs may not be all they’re cracked up to be, mixed or laced with other harmful ingredients.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University determined that the purified form of the stimulant MDMA, better known to partygoers as “Molly,” are quite often actually fake or compromised versions of the real thing. Data collected by volunteers offering free drug testing at concerts showed that the pills believed by concertgoers to be Molly is usually adulterated, many times with as many harmful additives that can lead to dangerous side effects.

In the past, similar studies have found additives like cocaine or heroin in ecstasy pills. In this latest research, the most common additive put into Molly were chemicals most commonly known as “bath salts.”  Bath salts became well-known from media reports of people exhibiting delusional behavior and superhuman-like strength in confrontations with witnesses and police officers.

People dancing at rave
People who consider using drugs like ecstasy at music festivals and dance parties may be more likely to pass on a pill if they had the opportunity to test its potency and makeup, a recent study finds.

The authors believe their findings prove that providing services like pill-testing at events where large amounts of people are likely to use them may instead help reduce drug use and sway potential users from making dangerous decisions.

“People would be safest not taking any street drugs at all, but if free, no-fault testing can reduce deaths and other catastrophic consequences, it may be a service worth having,” says Dr. Matthew W. Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a statement. “Our results suggest that some people will reject taking a pill to get high if it doesn’t contain what they thought it did, or has harmful additives.”

MDMA is both a stimulant and a psychedelic drug that has long been favored by live concert- and music festival-goers. MDMA itself has risk factors, ranging from severe dehydration, chills, nausea, and, in extreme cases, seizures. But MDMA is also commonly cut with other substances, such as caffeine and forms of amphetamine, which can lead to overdose and death.

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For the study, volunteers working for the nonprofit DanceSafe tested samples of Molly pills at raves and concerts that took place between July 2010 until July 2015. The testing was free and advertised by word of mouth. Volunteers scraped off tiny amounts of the pills submitted to them and used a simple set of chemicals on them that turned different colors in the presence of up to 29 substances.

Of the 529 samples collected by the volunteers, 318 of of them (about 6 in every 10 pills) contained MDMA or the closely-related drug MDA. In the 211 pills that were adulterated, 90 were found to contain unknown chemicals, while bath salts were the most commonly identified, found in 56 of the compromised pills. Methamphetamine was identified in 13 of the samples.

After being told the results, participants were asked whether or not they’d still take the pill. Only 168 people gave answers, but among those whose pills were adulterated, just 26 percent said they would still take the drug, compared to 46 percent whose pills did in fact contain MDMA.

“People who take pills and first responders need to know that no matter how the pills are branded or what name they are sold as, they almost always contain a mix of ingredients,” says Johnson. “Our results should discourage a false sense of security about the purity and safety of so-called Molly.”

Johnson notes that the results show just how valuable pill-testing services can be in helping curb drug use, but admits that festival and concert organizers may be hesitant to actually enlist such services due to liability concerns.

The full study was published July 10, 2017 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

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