MDMA, molly, and ecstasy. Different names to describe the same substance, which has a complicated history from the couches of couple’s therapy to the rave dance floor. Unfortunately, the War on Drugs did a number on MDMA’s reputation. Thankfully, science is currently putting up quite an evidence-based fight, and MDMA is expected to be FDA approved for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those considering using MDMA therapeutically may have questions about what the difference is between MDMA, molly, and ecstasy, as well as the three most common forms: crystals, pills, and powder. Which is cleaner? Keep reading as Psychable breaks it down.
What is the difference between MDMA, molly, and ecstasy?
3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is both a stimulant and psychedelic substance. While MDMA is used colloquially to describe the drug (which, yes, can be adulterated) it’s technically an abbreviation of the psychedelic in its purest form.
German scientists initially synthesized MDMA for the treatment of abnormal bleeding in 1912. In the 1970s, psychotherapists began to use MDMA therapeutically, especially in couple’s therapy, as it lowered inhibitions and enhanced empathy. MDMA produces a euphoric and empathic state, which is why it is considered an “entactogen,” which means ‘to touch within.’ Comparatively, “entheogen” (such as psilocybin or ayahuasca) means ‘to generate the divine.’
However, due to the War on Drugs, MDMA was listed as a Schedule 1 drug and banned in 1985 after gaining popularity for recreational use. It was often taken in pill form under the name “ecstasy”, especially in the electronic music festival and rave scenes.
Prohibition of substances forces those interested in its use to obtain it illicitly. Inevitably, dangers related to the drug increase. To raise profits and often with disregard to their customer’s health, sellers may cut it with other substances that may be dangerous.
As reports of ecstasy cut with dangerous contaminants increased, people began favoring “molly,” a name short for molecule, meant to be pure MDMA in crystal or powder form and sometimes sold in capsules. However, no good deed goes unpunished. As molly grew in popularity, it too became cut with more dangerous adulterants. Today, recreationally, the terms “ecstasy,” “molly,” and “MDMA” tend to be used interchangeably. Unfortunately, all three run the risk of being contaminated.
What is the difference between crystals, powder, and pills?
As noted, MDMA is the name of the active ingredient in molly and ecstasy. It’s also used to describe the drug. Research into MDMA as part of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy uses pure MDMA compounded with mannitol and magnesium stearate. MDMA is currently in phase 3 trials in the US, Canada, and Israel and is expected to achieve FDA approval by 2023.
Recreational MDMA and molly usually come in powder or crystal form which is sometimes put into capsules. It is most often ingested, but can be snorted and more rarely, smoked. As the powder is water-soluble, it can be mixed into a drink, creating “molly water.”
Ecstasy is often taken in pill form. The pills can be white and unlabeled, cute and colorful, and some have designs imprinted on them.
One study suggests that people perceive MDMA crystal and powder to be purer than pill form. From 2013 to 2014, research from Australia shows that there was a significant decline in those who reported using ecstasy pills and a significant increase in the use of crystal MDMA. The same study suggests that the absorption of crystals in the digestive system is higher compared to pills or powdered MDMA. As a result, people who take crystal MDMA may experience a stronger peak and longer-lasting aftereffects.
Presently and despite best efforts, as the illegal drug remains popular, all forms of MDMA (pill, powder, crystal, and capsules) run the risk of being contaminated. While there is the possibility of pure MDMAmany samples tested have alarmingly revealed no MDMA content whatsoever.
What is MDMA cut with, and how can one obtain a pure and safe substance?
Common adulterants found in samples of MDMA include stimulants like amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, caffeine, and methylene-dioxyamphetamine (also known as bath salts). N-methoxybenzyl, N-Ethylpentylone, and PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) are examples of other dangerous contaminants that may mimic the desired effects of MDMA such as increased energy and confidence.
Recreational MDMA samples have even exposed traces of anesthetics, such as ketamine, or dextromethorphan (DXM), which is an ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicines. More rarely, fentanyl has been found.
There are at-home test kits available, such as DanceSafe, that use liquid chemical reagents to help determine the contents of an MDMA sample. While such tests are an excellent start from a harm reduction standpoint, unfortunately, they are not always accurate. Additionally, they can test if a substance is present, but they don’t show how much of it is there.
To make matters more complicated, test kits are legally considered drug paraphernalia. A music festival or rave could get into legal trouble simply for having them on-premise. Even if they aren’t always accurate, there is evidence that these harm reduction tools can either dissuade a consumer from taking a drug or encourage them to take a smaller dose when contaminants are discovered in a sample.
The most accurate form of drug testing is chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The Erowid Center offers this service anonymously, publishing the results of a submitted sample once testing is complete. However, this method lacks the ease, rapid results, and accessibility of at-home liquid chemical reagents.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
MDMA is the active ingredient in molly and ecstasy. “MDMA” itself has also become a colloquial term for the drug. Speaking generally, ecstasy refers to the pill-form of MDMA which became popular in the 1980s rave scene. As such pills increasingly became cut with other more dangerous drugs, the crystal and powder form of pure MDMA began being sold under the name molly (short for molecule). However, today, not only do some use the terms MDMA, molly, and ecstasy interchangeably, but all forms (crystal, powder, and pills) run the risk of being adulterated. While test kits are available to check the purity of a substance, they are not always accessible or reliable. As a result, the only sure way to obtain pure and safe MDMA is from a reputable source, which should become more available once MDMA gains FDA approval for the treatment of PTSD.