New Study Confirms That Molly Users Don't Know What They're Taking

Surveys combined with hair tests indicate that MDMA adulteration is common.



A new study provides additional evidence that pills or powders sold as MDMA—even ostensibly pure "molly"—frequently contain synthetic cathinones (a.k.a. "bath salts") or other substitutes. Beginning with a sample of "679 nightclub and festival attendees in New York City," the researchers focused on 48 subjects who reported MDMA use in an electronic survey and provided adequate hair samples for drug testing. Of the 34 who reported no use of "bath salts," other recently popularized stimulants, or "unknown pills or powders," two-fifths nevertheless tested positive for a "novel psychoactive substance" (NPS), most commonly butylone. Reporting their findings in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, NYU public health researcher Joseph Palamar and his co-authors say "our results suggest that many ecstasy users are unintentionally or unknowingly using synthetic cathinones and/or other NPS."

This sort of adulteration, a familiar side effect of prohibition, is worrisome not just because consumers are getting ripped off but because MDMA substitutes may be more dangerous than the real thing. While poisoning reports involving "bath salts" fell by 92 percent between 2011 and 2015, Palamar et al. note, "rates of poisonings related to [MDMA] use have increased in the US, and this may be due, in part, to users unknowingly using NPS such as synthetic cathinones in their ecstasy." To help address this problem, the authors suggest "prevention and harm reduction education," pill testing "for those rejecting abstinence," and more systematic analysis of purported MDMA seized by law enforcement agencies.

"Ecstasy wasn't always such a dangerous drug, but it is becoming increasingly risky because it has become so adulterated with new drugs that users and the scientific community alike know very little about," Palamar says in an NYU press release. "Users need to be aware that what they are taking may not be MDMA."

Apparently none of that was sexy enough for Ars Technica, whose story about this study was headlined "Violence-Inducing Bath Salts May Be Common Hidden Ingredient in Party Drug." In their report, Palamar and his colleagues do not mention violence at all, let alone an increase among MDMA-popping electronic music fans. Nor does Ars Technica reporter Beth Mole cite any evidence that synthetic cathinones induce violence. The one incident she mentions—"a 2012 case in which a Miami man ate a homeless man's face"—involved an attacker who tested negative for synthetic cathinones, as she herself acknowledges. 

"A lot of people laughed when they gave us their hair," says Palamar, recalling comments such as, "I don't use bath salts; I'm not a zombie who eats people's faces." He adds that "our findings suggest many of these people have been using 'bath salts' without realizing it." In other words, the vicious attacker who supposedly was high on "bath salts" had not actually taken them, while people who take them but think they are taking Molly behave about as violently as the average MDMA user. But one thing we know for sure: Bath salts make people violent.

[Thanks to Ron Steiner for the Ars Technica link.]

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  1. Street drugs have rarely been 100% pure and many times, not even what they’re marketed to be at all.

    This is entirely the fault of the US government. And anytime someone dies because of impure or substituted street drugs, everyone in congress should be tried, found guilty and sent to prison. Ok, not really, I’m just using their own logic against them.

  2. No OTC heroin, no peace.

  3. This is where the Pro-Euthanasia/Right-to-Die argument comes into play. Should the individual have the right to poison themselves to death, and who cleans that mess up?

    I am in favor of the Futurama Suicide Booth, honestly.

    1. Quick and painless, or slow and horrible?

    2. People certainly have the right to poison themselves. And even if they didn’t what are you going to do about it?

      Death by poison/overdose is more considerate to those around you than shooting yourself or cutting your wrists, at least.

      I think Futurama got the idea from Kurt Vonnegut.

      1. If we are measuring the impact of collateral issues after suicide, I would agree that a Cobain style of ticket punching is more unkempt than an overdose. But factor in the disposal of the corpse, the FDA (would it be some other agency that collects corpses in a pro-suicide State?) would need to approve certain vehicles for corpse transport, as I don’t see there ever being a corpse in a flatbed protected under “peaceful cohabitation.”

        Then the Probate Courts are implicated, suicide clauses in insurance policies, etc. etc.

        Suicide is the most selfish thing a human being can do. Do we dumpster the leftover bits? Trash collection?

        1. “Suicide is the most selfish thing a human being can do.”


          Its the second most selfish thing you can do. The first is killing someone else so that you may live.

  4. Popular as I am with young folk, they tell me of their drug experiences. No tale of “molly” has matched my experience with MDMA nor does the LSD they get nowadays sound like the acid of yore. (Since when did LSD commonly come in pill form?)

    1. Just watch those kids with their pirin habits. Whoooo, that stuff’s a killer.

      1. I hear it can give you the bleeds.

    2. The LSD of yore was pharmaceutical grade. It was made by drug companies not retards with a few chemistry books in their basement.

      1. There also used to be basically one organization that made most of the illicit LSD in the country and they were competent and consistent. They got shut down in the late 90s or somewhere around there. I was a fairly big LSD enthusiast in the 90s. The couple of times I have tried it since it’s just not the same thing.

        1. I am glad I tried it when I did. I had no idea about that Zeb. Thanks.

  5. No one who takes illegal drugs knows what they are using. They think they know and obviously are usually correct but they don’t know.

    1. Weed is an exception to that rule in most cases, I think. I suppose that could be adulterated as well, but people will notice that.

      1. Weed is an exception to that rule in most cases, I think.

        And there are connoisseurs, aficionados, and kooks of just about any/every substance who are willing to put costly and obnoxious standards on their habits.

        As anybody who’s seen a non-GMO organic beer can attest to.

  6. The one incident she mentions?”a 2012 case in which a Miami man ate a homeless man’s face”?involved an attacker who tested negative for synthetic cathinones, as she herself acknowledges.

    He was probably on regular molly. Ate the guy’s whole face and wouldn’t be hungry again for hours. There was this guy once, you see this scar…?

  7. Another good article about the Apple case

    Stupid char limit

  8. Isn’t not knowing what you’re taking part of the thrill, though? Live a little, people!

  9. Need it be said again?
    If all drugs were legal, we could purchase them from reliable sources.
    I would like to purchase LSD from CVS.

    1. Well, CVS won’t even sell you cigarettes, so I’m holding out for Walgreens.

      1. As long as it’s not from the dude in the trucker cap at the club near my house who tried to sell me acid that was already in his mouth.

  10. Like so many government actions, this one produces the opposite of intentions. Prohibition forces activities into the black market. We know this well.

    The free market has developed increasingly effective tools for helping consumers get what they want for a price they want to pay. The Internet and social media as well as old school tools like the BBB improve the market. But little to none of these work in the black market.

    Government intervention in the market always makes situations worse. This should be shouted from the highest rooftops continuously until citizens understand that government is not a useful player in the market. Government is the problem, not the solution.

  11. Ars can suck a dick. Decent tech and physics writing, but on social issues they might as well be Salon.

    1. Truth.

  12. My name is Jacob and I want to bring about the zombie apocalypse with my hippy-loving public policy.

  13. There seems to be a misimpression that the street term “Molly” is always intended to refer to MDMA. This is not so. In some places, “Molly” explicitly refers to methcathinone and other so-called “bath salts,” so you would expect to find them in a “Molly” case.

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