The number murdered, medical analysts say, is close to 39,000 in just 2012 alone. They say Americans lose 105 friends, colleagues, co-workers and family to it each day. The death tolls are increasing yearly – more than 105 percent since 1992, and it kills more than car crashes and guns combined, reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration state.
The unremitting murderer that has cost the U.S. more than $51 billion, caused strife across the nation and filled jail cells is drugs; it’s becoming a culture, a way of life. And today, young adults are taking note not just from their friends or news sources, but from their pop-culture idols who are referencing MDMA, one of the most sought after drugs in America.
MDMA, or “molly,” is a club drug that has surfaced in the American party scene. The party scene according to the DEA, includes an estimated 208 million young adults between the ages of 13 and 29.
Police officers and concerned citizens are trying to curb the numerous casualties each year due to MDMA overdose.
Raves boom with popularity, causes strife
Justin Smith, senior in advertising, said molly’s influence was apparent at a “rave” he attended outside Los Angeles in the summer of 2013.
“There was three different stages all playing different types of music,” Smith said. “Lots of RV’s, tents and people dressed all sorts of weird. Bright lights and aliens were walking all over the place. You could definitely see a lot of people under the influence of molly. Some would just stand in the middle of a dance crowd and stare at the lights or sit on the ground and play with the dirt. No one was really themselves. It was a strange experience.”
A rave is a large party, or festival, featuring performances by disc jockeys and performers playing electronic music, particularly electronic dance music, including house, trance, techno, drum-and-bass and dubstep. The 2013 Urban Dictionary describes a rave as, “any gathering of people centered around listening to and dancing to electronic music as played by a set of live DJs. Often characterized by the positive, psychedelic atmosphere, influenced often — but not always — by drugs and casual sex.”
Each year, there is a jam-packed summer full of music festivals across the U.S. where young adults are participating in the “feel good drug,” molly.
The rave culture is nothing new to the U.S. It originated mostly from music parties in the mid-to-late 1980s in the Chicago area but has had a subtle history long before its popularity boom.
In 1958, Buddy Holly recorded his hit “Rave On.” That word “rave” was later used in the youth culture of the early 1960s as a way to describe a wild party, then “ravers” became known as gregarious party animals, according to Wikipedia.
The term fell out of usage due to the rapid change, the British pop culture influence, the mod subculture and hippie era of 1960s. Then, 20 years later, the understanding of the word changed when it was adopted by a new youth culture that was influenced by Jamaica.
In the mid-1980s, a wave of psychedelic and electronic dance music emerged in clubs, warehouses and “free parties.” What many would come to know as the rave scene during this time was influenced by the Northern Soul scene, which involved groups of working-class kids dancing into the night to soul records in the 1960s.
The rave scene soon grew into a subculture and movement and then filtered into the 1990s where concertgoers traveled across the country to “rave.” According to the “Best Summer Music Festivals” by SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that helps buyers find tickets to concerts and events, such raves grew to draw close to 60,000 people.
Raves are abundant and there are an upward of 40 every summer across the United States, according to SeatGeek. In today’s culture, drugs are prevalent at raves, especially MDMA.
Since its rise after the year 2000, MDMA has been making its way into the rave scene more than ever, according to a recent ABC report. One blogger at highexistance.com, a blog spot for people to buy and trade information on drugs, claimed in April 2012 that, “if you’re not taking molly at these things, you’re not fitting in.”
A 2013 ABC News report stated that MDMA has many effects and many “ravers” are taking part in the use of molly, which in turn, is making raves dangerous to participate in due to their high arrests rates, high circulation of MDMA and even deaths.
According to the FBI, raves are one of the most popular venues where club drugs are distributed. Many ravers take MDMA because one of its effects is enabling dancers to dance for long periods of time and have excessive energy.
MDMA finds its way into student’s hands
Molly is scientifically 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, or MDMA, which is a chemical substance that does not come from plants like drugs such as marijuana or tobacco.
Many of MDMA’s abusers may falsely believe it is a safer drug because it is a cocaine substance in its purest form, according to the DEA. But substances such as caffeine, dextromethorphan, ketamine, methamphetamine, amphetamines, PCP, cocaine and most recently, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cathinones, which are psychoactive ingredients in the drug commonly referred to as bath salts, are added to MDMA to make molly tablets. Molly abusers have been known to take two to five tablets at a time, not knowing what may be inside them.
After an MDMA tablet, capsule or pill has been swallowed, it only takes 15 minutes to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain for its user to begin to feel its effects.
“It is a euphoric high, a pleasant way of feeling. It plays to different reactors in the brain and causes many to hallucinate,” Darren Koberlein, Kansas City, Kan., detective in the Narcotics Unit, said. “It’s just like having a mean drunk or a happy drunk. You never know.”
According to the NIDA, in teens, the drug is at its peak level after just 45 minutes of ingestion, causing a person to experience its “high.” NIDA reports that a person who takes only one pill, feels sadness, anxiety and depression, and has memory difficulties that can last from several days to one week.
Users say the experience with molly starts with a bitter taste that is soon forgotten after the high kicks in.
“It feels like I could fly,” Chris*, a 21-year-old student from Kansas City, Kan., said. “I like it and my friends do it. It’s something we connect on and do for fun.”
According to a 2012 CNN report, MDMA acts as a stimulant and a psychedelic. Molly ushers in euphoria by flooding the brain with neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, which make users feel elated, empathic and full of energy.
“It makes everything better,” Gregory*, a 24-year-old student at the University of Kansas, said. “In comparison to what life is without molly, well it doesn’t compare. Music is better, I laugh harder. I feel emotions that I don’t feel without the high. It makes for a better life in general.”
Koberlein said that in MDMA death autopsy reports he has seen in his line of work in Kansas City, Kan., from 2012 and 2013, that the cause of death has been a rise in users’ core body temperature.
“The core body temperature will rise, for instance while at a rave or dance of sort, or any time there is closely compacted people. It will be hotter in a room,” Koberlein said. “At 104 degrees your body starts to shut down your brain functions, when 98.6 [degrees] is the regular body temperature.”
Dr. Ronald Cowan, a psychiatry professor at Vanderbilt University who studies MDMA, said even the purest MDMA is not safe.
“Although it’s considered rare, death from pure MDMA can happen several ways,” said Cowan, in a Sept. 6 article that appeared on the ABC News website. “It can cause blood vessels in the heart and brain to constrict and result in a stroke or heart attack. The stimulant, which raises the user’s blood pressure and heart rate, can also cause the body to get severely overheated, causing fatal brain damage. Finally, it can cause blood sodium to drop, prompting the brain to swell and resulting in a fatal seizure. Dehydration and over-hydration are also common.”
People who use MDMA also can become dehydrated through vigorous activity in a hot environment, according to the NIDA. This is specifically a problem because MDMA interferes with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, which can result in liver, kidney, cardiovascular system failure or death.
Researches for the NIDA explain that MDMA can cause damage to the brain by affecting the neurons that use serotonin to communicate with other neurons.
Serotonin plays a direct role in controlling mood, aggression, sexual activity, sleep and sensitivity to pain.
A 2009 U.K. review by a government advisory council sifted through more than 20 years of research to come to the conclusion that MDMA can cause cognitive impairment, memory loss and depression.
“Kids don’t want to think about long-term drug effects and possible job prospects,” Koberlein said. “Unless you can get kids to focus on long-term agendas and goals, you’re not going to convince them to not live in the day.”
Patricia Clayborn, psychiatric nurse for Home Health of Kansas City and mother of two, said it’s all about the now and the hype that kids are after.
“Ecstasy, or MDMA, has been made out to be the fun, sensual, sexy drug that leads to a great night of partying and increased sexual experiences,” Clayborn said. “The psychological effects that the young don’t realize include sleep disorders, depressed moods, increased anxiety, impulsiveness and increased agitation. These psychological effects can lead to promiscuous behaviors putting our youth at risk for STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, suicide and a multitude of legal issues.”
The DEA website explains that compulsive users seem to follow two possible drug abusive patterns.
The first and most typical, is one of escalation use until the side effects and hangovers become so severe that the user reaches a crisis point. This type of abuser may seek psychiatric help and prescription medications instead of MDMA to deal with the problems they are facing.
In the second, and more rare case, abusers will stop using MDMA and deal with severely and chronically suppressed serotonin functions by propping themselves up with massive, frequent doses.
Researchers explain that in the second case, MDMA becomes much more like methamphetamine and the ability to draw a strong serotonin effect from the brain has been largely lost. It is likely that users in the second case will crash and also eventually seek help.
“I can [stop] if I want,” Gregory said. “There are times when I am doing school work and I know it needs to get done, so I focus and then what I do in my free time comes second.”
Although the DEA suspects MDMA to be one of the less addictive recreational drugs, there are still many clinical rehab facilities to help users cope with MDMA addiction.
Pop culture makes a lasting impression with drug abusers, teens
Since the drugs’ resurfacing in the 1980s, molly has made a strong comeback in pop culture.
Celebrities are popularizing molly by referencing the drug in songs and in rap performances. Performers ranging from Madonna and Kanye West to Miley Cyrus and 2 Chainz have mentioned molly in songs they have released as recently as 2012 and 2013.
A song from rapper, Tyga, actually titled “Molly” repeats references to the drug throughout its entire chorus.
Singer and actress Miley Cyrus has made references to the drug in the lyrics of two of her recently released songs, “We Can’t Stop” and “Ain’t Worried ‘Bout Nothin’,” which can be heard and seen in many YouTube videos and on iTunes.
“I feel young children are easily influenced by their environment and look up to their favorite singers as role models, thus leaving them at a higher risk to feed into the behaviors and lifestyle these singers and pop stars portray,” Clayborn said. “It’s hard to shelter your children from all of the negative media, but parents also need to be proactive in teaching children the short and long term effects of drugs and alcohol.”
Last year at her concert, pop star Madonna shouted to the audience, “How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?”
Rapper Rick Ross’ controversial “U.O.E.N.O.” lyrics state: “Put molly up in her champagne, she didn’t even know it / Took her home and I enjoyed that, she didn’t even know it.”
Lyrics like Ross’ may give young adults ideas about drugs and sex and may cause discomfort for many parents.
Jennifer Barbosa, 40, a Kansas City, Kan. parent of a 13-year-old girl, said that when her daughter asked for Miley Cyrus concert tickets for Christmas, she refused.
“Young kids look up to people like that and it influences them more than the average person,” Barbosa said. “They shouldn’t be able to reference things like that.”
Barbosa said she does not recall a time during her generation or the ones before her that put so much emphasis on drugs, sex and money.
“It used to be about good vibes and allowing people to connect and enjoy their music,” Barbosa said. “Now it’s people connecting through music to connect to drugs, something that has changed what the pop culture means today.”
MDMA becomes increasingly easy for students to access
As far as MDMA’s accessibility, many users say it is accessible on any local college campus.
“I can afford it because I don’t do it every day,” Gregory said. “It is a once in a while thing and it’s easier than you think. It can cost anywhere from $15 to $50.”
Chris, a dealer in Lawrence near the KU campus area, said that he has many buyers who are out promoting his product for him, which is the easiest way to get the word out.
“It’s not only a way to put myself through college, but it’s a way to connect and make friends,” Chris said. “I serve from my campus to the metropolitan area and having help is the way I make the product accessible to people.”
At highexistence.com, users chatted about the accessibility of drugs for their own recreational use and said that it was easy to gain from any person during the weekend raves that occur across the U.S. each summer.
“I’ve heard kids talk about molly,” Chad Cowher, a 25-year veteran of the Kansas City, Kan. police department, said. “I don’t know if it’s a cost issue or availability.”
Chris said that molly is passed around, in his case, at many parties.
“It is very easy to get, just like any other drug, and molly is very easy to make,” Chris said. “That is why I believe it’s so popular. It’s cheap and accessible.”
Editor’s Note: The names of molly users and the molly dealer have been changed in this article because they requested anonymity.