Hordes of screaming, writhing, neon-clad young people surround you on all sides. The music pumps at deafening levels, the bass turned up high enough that you feel it in your chest. Suddenly you can’t stop smiling–the music sounds better, the light show might be the most engrossing thing you’ve ever seen, and you look down to realize you’re dancing (with much less shame than you’ve ever had before). Why doesn’t everyone do this?
These might be some of the thoughts running through your mind if you’ve ever taken molly, arguably the current generation’s drug of choice. Molly is the nickname for what is ostensibly pure MDMA, the chemical in ecstasy. Here’s the way it works: MDMA releases the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. In turn, the body is pumped with pleasure and energy, entering a euphoric state. Frequent users might experience depression when the brain can’t produce its own dopamine and serotonin anymore. Yet for the casual user, it’s not addictive, it doesn’t kill brain cells, and only the most unreasonably large doses can lead to overdose. Molly is a designer drug with obvious appeal and when used correctly, little chance of dire consequences–a large part of why it has become so popular.
Its surging popularity has coincided with the boom in music festivals, EDM music, and consequently, EDM music festivals (EDM is the term for the genre “Electronic Dance Music”). Ecstasy had always been a part of rave culture, but once it was supposedly purified and free of additives like methamphetamine and cocaine and rebranded as molly, its use became commonplace at EDM shows. This in turn led to its widespread use at music festivals dedicated to the genre, including Ultra, Electric Zoo, Wonderland, and others. The drug became inextricably tied to the music and was undoubtedly partially responsible for its cultural rise–you can hear EDM influences across all genres now. Recently, it has been championed by rappers like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and infamously, Rick Ross. Miley Cyrus had a molly controversy, and Madonna named her album MDNA. It’s hard to tell whether its increased prominence in culture preceded its easy availability or vice versa, but regardless, the drug has become an inescapable part of the modern world.
Steven (SMG ’15) and George (ENG ’15) are both three-time molly users, each time at concerts or festivals (names have been changed to protect the subjects from association with drug use). The two commented on how widespread and easy to obtain the drug is–they estimated that close to 40-50% of concert attendees use it, and that if you walk around long enough, you will eventually find someone selling. Most recently, the two took the drug at the first day of this year’s Electric Zoo. Like many, they obtained it from a friend of a friend whom they trusted and felt like they had adequately researched the drug and its potential consequences. Both raved about their experiences.
“You just get really euphoric and happy for no reason,” George says.
“You like touching things–anything,” says Steven. “You can’t stop moving. Some people can dance for three straight hours.”
Despite two people dying on the very grounds they danced on two days prior, the two trust their judgment and sources and remain cautiously unconcerned about their past and potential future experiences with the drug.
“I’d say it’s worth trying at least once,” Steven says. “You have to have this experience in your life. You can’t imagine what it’s like.”
Experiences like these are how festivals and artists generate such positive word of mouth and keep attendance numbers high. Attendees are after the experience as much as the music, and the positive ones usually outnumber and override the negative. But with the rise in popularity comes a price. Molly has been tied to a recent string of deaths, one at Boston’s House of Blues, one at a club in Washington, D.C., and two at this year’s Electric Zoo festival in New York, leading to the city cancelling the last day. So how has a supposedly safe drug turned deadly?
With the rise in demand comes a decrease in quality. There’s not enough pure MDMA to go around, so dealers cut their product with everything from methamphetamine to alphabet drugs like MDA and nBOMEs to plain caffeine. EcstasyData.org compiles different types of molly and details the ingredients in common forms of ecstasy and molly–needless to say, most of what’s out there is not pure MDMA. The reason molly took over where ecstasy left off was because of its supposed purity, yet now it’s being laced with stimulants, hallucinogens, anything. Here’s where the problems lie–users never know what they’re getting. Taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol, pure MDMA has been known to cause symptoms like teeth grinding, insomnia, anxiety, exhaustion, and in extreme cases, hyperthermia, dehydration, seizures, and coma. It is believed that the recent deaths have something to do with what are essentially drug cocktails being sold as molly.
Given the drug’s association with these tragedies and its undeniable link to EDM music and culture, the question arises whether the artists themselves have any responsibility in curtailing the use of the drug.
Lucas Szulansky, stage name Luke Da Duke, is a BU student who has performed everywhere from the Electric Warehouse and The Box in New York, to Umbria and Middle East in Boston, to Ultra Music Festival in Miami.
“Artists for sure acknowledge it and know that it’s going on,” he says. “There’s no one that’s ignorant.”
Yet EDM artists face a unique challenge–molly undoubtedly attracts larger audiences to their shows and in turn generates more profit, but if its dangers keep growing and events keep getting cancelled, they are out of a job. Do they have a responsibility to themselves and their fans to speak out? Or is how listeners enjoy the music none of their business?
One of the genre’s most popular artists, Deadmau5, penned a diatribe against the irresponsibility associated with the drug and artists advocating it after Madonna’s infamous appearance at Ultra. Yet the vast majority has been mum on the topic, expressing condolences for the loss of life but refraining from outright condemning the drug.
Szulansky says “As an artist, there’s definitely [a responsibility]. I think there’s a lot of room to grow for artists to talk about it and for festivals to acknowledge it… I think it’s stupid to go to festivals because you want to take molly,” he says. “You should be able to enjoy music without drugs.” However, he hesitates before calling for an outright ban.
“I don’t really think it’s something that should be completely banned and obviously people are going to find ways to take it… If you can’t stop it, you might as well take the steps to make sure no one gets hurt.”
The question arises whether EDM’s current cultural prominence will remain with the potential of even more deaths or a government crackdown. Put simply, is there EDM without molly? Obviously, the genre currently does and will always still have its fans that love the music with or without narcotic enhancement. However, this article paints a frightening picture of just how reliant on the drug the EDM scene truly is. According to the author, a former industry insider, the genre’s whole infrastructure, from artists to promoters to venues to security, is rigged to get molly into their shows and to turn a profit from it without getting caught. Any article written anonymously should be taken with a grain of salt, and Szulansky would like to believe the practice isn’t widespread, but the claims nevertheless demonstrate the deeply ingrained ties the drug has to the genre and presents a dangerous image of what is largely perceived as a safe drug.
Music has been tied to drugs for decades now–acid in the 60s, marijuana in the 70s, cocaine in the 80s, heroin in the 90s, and now MDMA in the aughts. So is molly just the new “it” drug, sure to flame out and taper off just like its predecessors? Recent events seem to signal in the affirmative, but things might get worse before they get better. As evidenced by Steven and George, whose opinions on the drug have mostly stayed the same, it might take some major changes in the industry to spark real change.
What used to be an enhancement to the music has now become the main attraction, all the while increasing in danger. Perhaps the problem will fix itself and tainted molly will stop being sold, but all signs point to a more impactful change ahead. It could come from law enforcement. It could come from the dealers themselves. It could come from the artists. We can only hope it doesn’t come from more fatalities.