What Is Molly (MDMA) Powder?

What Is Molly (MDMA) Powder?

MDMA is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in the world. The seemingly wild journey MDMA has taken — from its first synthesis in a pharmaceutical lab to underground therapy couches to the crowded floors of raves and dance parties — only underscores our continued interest in this fascinating compound.

Today, MDMA has been labeled as a “breakthrough therapy” by the FDA and is being investigated for its use in psychedelic assisted therapy to treat PTSD.

Over time, MDMA has been sold in various forms. While many are familiar with the pressed and branded tablets often associated with Ecstasy, MDMA can also come in powder form.

Read on to better understand MDMA, its different forms, and what you might expect from MDMA powder.

RELATED: What Does MDMA Do To Your Brain

What Is MDMA?

3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a synthetic drug that has a long and storied past. MDMA was first developed in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck and later used during the Cold War as part of the CIA’s MK-Ultra project exploring psychedelic drugs for mind control. It was not until the late 1970s that MDMA would be “rediscovered” by the late renowned drug researcher and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin.

Thanks to its unique chemical structure, MDMA’s effects combine those of classical stimulants (methamphetamines) with classic psychedelics. It’s often referred to as an “entactogen” or “empathogen” for its ability to produce feelings of emotional communion, oneness, relatedness, and openness.

During the 1970s and ’80s, MDMA gained wide use in experimental psychotherapeutic circles and eventually gained popularity in the mainstream, becoming a fixture of the burgeoning electronic dance and rave scenes of the 1980s and 90s.

In the United States, MDMA was soon caught up in the larger War on Drugs and added to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act in 1985 (making it officially illegal) though its use, both therapeutically and recreationally, has continued.

MDMA is one of the most commonly consumed illicit drugs in the world, and it is concurrently undergoing a second phase three clinical trial for use in psychedelic assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. ​​It is on track to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a prescription medication in 2023.

Is MDMA The Same As Molly?

Drug slang can be difficult to track, since the nicknames used for illicit drugs vary from place to place, and even from person to person, in their usage.

The slang “molly” seems to have first popped up in the U.S. in the early 2000s. Short for “molecular,” molly was first used to describe pure MDMA that was sold in a powder or crystal form and used to distinguish itself from MDMA pills or Ecstasy pills. These typically contained MDMA cut with other substances — like ketamine, caffeine, cathinone-type stimulants or cocaine.

Since “molly” was used to refer to a more pure (and therefore more desirable) product, soon the name came to be used on a wide variety of drugs containing MDMA, including Ecstasy and MDMA pills.

Today, colloquially “molly” is often used interchangeably with “ecstasy” to refer to a powder, capsule or tablet containing MDMA. “These names can all be used interchangeably in recreational settings, and it is difficult to know if the substance is pure or cut with other drugs,” said Dr. Sam Zand, DO and Chief Medical Officer of Better U.

Still, many people continue to use “molly” to denote a powder of higher quality or purity, but in an unregulated market with no standardized product it’s hard to know whether these claims are true.

MDMA Powder vs. MDMA Pills: What’s The Difference?

While the term molly may imply purity and be used to label powdered forms of MDMA, MDMA pills and tablets have consistently contained other substances.

“MDMA pills often contain other ingredients, such as caffeine, that can alter the effects of the drug,” said Dr. John Bartholdi, PharmD and blogger at Nootropicology.

MDMA pills may also contain substances like ketamine, 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), cocaine, methamphetamine, 4-methylmethcathinone, and methylsulfonylmethane among others.

What Does MDMA Powder Look Like?

The look and feel of Molly (MDMA) powder can vary quite a lot. “Since it’s an illicit drug, there is no standard appearance for MDMA powder,” said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, medical toxicology physician and co-medical director at National Capital Poison Center.

Still, products that are in fact pure Molly (MDMA) powder tend to range from white to beige or even a light brown color. “MDMA powder can be different colors but is often white or off-white. It may also have a powdery or slightly grainy texture,” said Dr. Bartholdi.

Testing MDMA Powder For Purity

It can be hard to know what you’re actually getting when you purchase any product called “molly” or MDMA powder. “Illicit drugs are not regulated by the federal government, and can be contaminated with other drugs or contain completely different chemicals than what sellers (or their labels) claim,” said Dr. Johnson-Arbor.

Ongoing testing of samples, including tablets, capsules and powder circulating predominantly in Europe and North America, shows that products labeled “molly” may not be pure MDMA and some contain no MDMA at all. Other chemicals such as 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) and 3,4-Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) have been sold as molly.

One study conducted by Johns Hopkins looked at 529 samples and found that only about 60 percent of them actually contained MDMA. The most common adulterants they found were compounds better known as bath salts, specifically methylone and other cathinones, and methamphetamine.

Luckily, there are some ways to evaluate Molly (MDMA) powder for purity. Anonymous drug testing services like DrugsData.org will analyze a sample for you (for a fee) to determine its chemical components (but not potency) and there are other over-the-counter tests you can purchase to do similar tests at home though, the sensitivity and usefulness of these is debatable.

How Is Molly (MDMA) Powder Taken?

Sometimes Molly (MDMA) powder is added to empty capsules and sold that way, in which case they can be swallowed. Powder can also be mixed with water or another liquid and swallowed, though it has a distinctly bitter taste.

“MDMA powder is often snorted but can also be swallowed or smoked,” said Dr. Bartholi. When MDMA is taken by mouth, effects are typically felt within about 30-60 minutes while snorting or smoking produces a much quicker onset.

Dosing: How Much Molly (MDMA) Powder Should I Take?

An appropriate dose of Molly (MDMA) powder depends highly on the individual. Their weight, metabolism, general health and even their desired experience can all factor into what dose is best for them. However, there are some general guidelines to consider.

Organizations like DanceSafe suggest the average dose for most people is somewhere between 80 mg and 125 mg.

The first phase three clinical trial examining MDMA for PTSD used a standard dose of 80 mg or 120 mg, with a supplemental dose of half the initial dose (40 mg or 60 mg) given about 90 minutes after the first. In recreational settings, too, it’s not uncommon for folks taking MDMA to “redose” with half the initial dose after 90 minutes as a way of extending the experience for a few hours.

Without knowing the potency of the powder you’re consuming, the old drug adage applies here: start low and go slow. Products labeled as molly have been increasing in potency over recent years.

According to the Europe-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation, in 2018, over 70 percent of sampled MDMA pills contained an average of 171 milligrams of MDMA per pill, up from about 80 milligrams in the 1990s and steadily rising since then. The organization also reports the rise of ‘superpills’ that contain 270-340 milligrams per pill — about 2-3 times the average adult dose.

As a result, it’s recommended to start with a small amount of powder. You can estimate how many doses are in the quantity of powder you have when considering that the average cost of a dose ranges from $20-$50 USD. Harm reduction nonprofit The Loop recommends taking about ¼ of a dose and giving your body ample time (at least an hour) to metabolize the MDMA before taking more.

MDMA Powder Effects

While MDMA could be snorted, smoked or injected, it’s most commonly swallowed and effects are usually felt within 30-60 minutes.

“The effects of MDMA typically last for three to six hours,” said Dr. Bartholi, particularly when a supplementary dose is taken after 90 minutes. Peak blood concentrations and physical effects from a single dose generally occur at about the two hour mark.

MDMA works predominantly by increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The full picture as to how MDMA creates effects in the human brain and body is not fully understood as yet but research has suggested that MDMA’s chemical structure, which shares similarities to classical stimulants and classical psychedelics, is what gives it its specific entactogenic qualities.

Entactogens, also known as empathogens, are a distinct group of psychoactive substances that produce feelings of euphoria and well-being, increased empathy, openness and sociability, along with a heightened sensitivity to physical touch.

Not only have these effects lead to many of the cliches around MDMA trips use (like the famous “cuddle puddle”) but they’re also what’s helped MDMA assisted psychotherapy secure breakthrough therapy status from the FDA as a potential treatment for PTSD.

MDMA: Side Effects And Drug Interactions

While the euphoric and pleasant feelings associated with MDMA can be fun and even therapeutic to many, its use is not without risks and the possibility of side effects.

Due to its stimulant properties, MDMA increases heart rate and blood pressure during the trip. Because of this, and because a few people may have a more pronounced cardiac response to MDMA, people with a history of high blood pressure, heart trouble, or stroke are advised not to use MDMA.

Other health conditions that may be dangerously impacted by MDMA include:

  • Liver or kidney issues
  • Seizure disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Susceptibility to heatstroke

MDMA is known to impact temperature regulation in the body, which often leads to an increased body temperature. MDMA can also potentiate the ability of water to lower blood sodium levels. In the context of dance parties and raves where MDMA is often taken, these effects can become dangerous when users are dancing for extended periods of time and drinking excessive water.

While on the drug, MDMA may also cause muscle tension, restlessness, jaw clenching, nausea, dry mouth, headache, chills or sweating, and blurred vision.

Blood pressure and heart rate may fluctuate more widely for a few days after the trip. While some people experience an “afterglow effect” in the days after their experience, still others report headaches, muscle soreness, anxiety, fatigue, irritability and depression.

Certain drugs should not be mixed with MDMA. When used in conjunction with MDMA, a class of antidepressant drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) have been linked to fatal interactions when brain serotonin levels become dangerously high.

In addition, any drug that is metabolized by the same group of liver enzymes as MDMA (primarily the CYP2D6 enzyme) has the potential of interaction. It’s generally recommended to avoid mixing MDMA with any other recreational drugs or alcohol.

MDMA Powder: The Takeaway

MDMA powder (or Molly) white to off-white substance whose texture can range from fine powder to a more granular mixture. It originated as a more pure and unadulterated form of the drug, which until the early 2000s had been sold predominantly in tablet form as Ecstasy and often contained other substances like caffeine, ketamine or cocaine.

While the names “Molly” and “Ecstasy” are used to label any drug containing MDMA, many people still use Molly to refer to pure Molly (MDMA) powder. Still, even MDMA powder could be mislabeled or cut with other substances.

There are anonymous testing services and over-the-counter testing kits that can be used to detect the presence of non-MDMA substances in powder but these tests don’t generally offer details on the specific substances present nor the potency of the powder.

In recent years, the potency of MDMA products has been on the rise, with some sampled products (so called ‘superpills’) clocking in at two to three times the average dose. When consuming unknown and unanalyzed Molly (MDMA) powder, be cautious around dosing.

Lauren M. Wilson

Lauren M. Wilson

View all posts by Lauren M. Wilson

Lauren M. Wilson is a five-time published author, freelance writer and editor. She has built a career on investigating cultural niches and her latest works, including three books, have focused on advancing the mainstream conversation on cannabis through education. She is currently diving into the psychedelic renaissance and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Abid Nazeer

This post was medically approved by Abid Nazeer

Dr. Nazeer is the Founder and President of APS Ketamine/Advanced Psychiatric Solutions, which he established in 2016 as the first psychiatric outpatient ketamine clinic in Illinois. He is board certified in Psychiatry as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his psychiatry residency at Louisiana State University Health Sciences in Shreveport where he held the role of Chief Resident. Dr. Nazeer is providing medical oversight to the growth plan of Wesana Clinics, with the model of comprehensive psychiatry clinics specialized ketamine and psychedelic therapies, integrated brain health and wellness centers, and technology utilization of Wesana Solutions remote patient monitoring product.

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