Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “Boxy” from St. Henry District High School in Kentucky asked:
What are designer drugs?
The term “designer drugs” refers to drugs that are created in a laboratory (typically, an “underground,” or secret, illegal lab). A designer drug is created by changing the properties of a drug that comes from a plant—such as cocaine, morphine, or marijuana—using the tools of chemistry. The resulting “designer” drugs typically have a new, different effect on the brain or behavior.
Examples of Designer Drugs
MDMA (Ecstasy), ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD (acid), and methamphetamine are some examples of designer drugs. These drugs may also be referred to as “club drugs” because of their use in night clubs.
Since many designer drugs are created in illegal labs, their ingredients and potency (how strong they are) vary a lot, making it nearly impossible to know what is actually in them or what they can do to you. For example, Ecstasy tablets are often contaminated with other things, like ephedrine (used to treat allergies and asthma), ketamine (an injected anesthetic given for minor surgeries), and methamphetamine (another illicit drug).
It is not surprising that these unknown mixtures can cause dangerous side effects, such as seizures, memory loss, coma and even death.
Find out more about club drugs.
Recently, Madonna created some buzz when she mentioned “Molly” at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival. Madonna shouted to the audience, “How many people in the crowd have seen Molly?” Madonna was talking about the song “Have You Seen Molly?” by Cedric Gervais. However, “Molly” is also a nickname for MDMA. Many news outlets reported that the legendary pop singer was talking about drugs, not the song. Madonna responded by saying, “I don't support drug use and I never have.”
All About Molly
We were happy to hear that Madonna doesn’t encourage her fans to use MDMA, because it’s a very dangerous drug. MDMA is manmade—similar to the stimulant methamphetamine. It’s commonly used at dance clubs and concerts, and can make people feel like they have more energy and less fear. But the myths about MDMA being pure and safe are definitely not true.
Let us introduce you to the real Molly.
- Molly Is Often Mixed Up. MDMA is a synthetic drug, meaning that it’s made of chemicals. It comes in colorful pills, tablets, or capsules that sometimes have cartoon-like images on them. Sometimes each pill, or batch of pills, can have different combinations of substances in the mix and cause unknown consequences.
- Molly Makes You Hyper. People who use MDMA might feel very alert, or “hyper.” But MDMA can also cause muscle cramping, nausea, blurred vision, increased heart rate and blood pressure—and in rare cases, hyperthermia and even death.
- Molly Can Depress You. Potential side effects of MDMA include feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression, and memory difficulties. These can last for several days to a week (or longer in people who use it regularly).
- Molly Is Dangerous. MDMA can be extremely dangerous in high doses—increasing the risk of seizures and compromising the heart's ability to maintain its normal rhythms. A study in animals showed that exposure to high doses of MDMA for 4 days produced brain damage that could still be seen 6 to 7 years later.
Ecstasy and MDMA Use Is Rising
Despite these harmful consequences, NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study shows that past-year Ecstasy use is up significantly among college students and young adults age 19–28. Another report shows that emergency room visits related to Ecstasy increased nearly 123% from 2004 to 2009; two-thirds of these visits involved 18–29 year olds. This is troubling news, since we’re still learning how Ecstasy affects the brain.
Tell us what you think of Madonna’s “Molly” mix-up. If Madonna’s comment had been referring to drug use, would that change your opinion of her? Are you more likely to buy her album “MDNA” (coincidentally similar to MDMA) since hearing about this in the news? Let us know in the comments.
NIDA stays up to date on drug use trends. At the end of 2012, we noticed a huge spike in the number of searches on the NIDA for Teens Web site for information on “Molly,” a club drug made from MDMA, the pure form of Ecstasy.
Mostly, Molly is abused at clubs and concerts and is referred to in electronic music. Now, rap and hip hop are mentioning the drug more often.
In 2012, several major artists released songs that referenced Molly:
- Kanye West, “Mercy”: “Something about Mary, she gone off that Molly / Now the whole party is melted like Dalí.”
- Trinidad James, “All Gold Everything”: “Popped a Molly and now I’m sweating, woo!”
- Rihanna, “Diamonds”: “Palms rise to the universe, as we moonshine and Molly / Feel the warmth, we’ll never die / We’re like diamonds in the sky.”
While many of these songs focus on the euphoria Molly can cause, they leave out the dangers it poses to the brain and body. To find out indepth information about how Molly affects the brain, check out this three-part series on MDMA.
Molly may be a hot topic in pop culture, but most teens steer clear of the drug. In 2012, NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey found that only 7.2% of 12th graders had used Ecstasy in their lifetimes—a 4.5% decrease from 2011.
Tell us: Does rap music influence what you and your friends do, like what you wear? Do references in rap songs make you want to seek out the facts?
Earlier this summer, we reported that 21% of music festival goers admitted to using illegal drugs at a concert. Unfortunately, the tragic incident in New York resulted in multiple overdoses and forced the mayor of Randall's Island to cancel the last day of the concert.
Though Molly has been connected to electronic and dance music for years, it has recently gained popularity in mainstream music because of mentions by Kanye West, Madonna, and most recently, Miley Cyrus.
MDMA is a manmade stimulant that can dangerously raise your heart rate and blood pressure and even cause life-threatening dehydration—especially when combined with physical activity like dancing. Molly is a name for pure MDMA that comes in powder or crystal form. However, powder sold as “Molly” often is not pure. It is sometimes mixed with other drugs that can make an overdose more likely. Sometimes, it might not contain any MDMA at all.
People who buy and use drugs at music festivals have no way of knowing what they are really getting—or how it will affect them. It is important not to trust anyone trying to get you to take a drug. Just let music be your natural high.