A three-day music festival in New York City was cut short this weekend after two people died and four more were hospitalized in intensive care. (An additional factor in shutting down the “Electric Zoo” was the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl).
The four hospitalizations, and the deaths of 23-year-old Jeffrey Russ and 20-year-old Olivia Rotondo, all appear to be caused by overdoses of a drug called Molly, reports the New York Daily News, although toxicology reports are still pending.
What is Molly?
First off, I’ll admit I’m so old I had to Google this one. I am officially that kind of old where I sound like every cartoon old lady: “WHAT THE HECK ARE THESE YOUNG-UNS DOING NOW? IT’S CALLED MILEY? MILLIE? MOLLY? WHAT NOW?” Seriously, I read pop culture news for a living and still, I can barely keep up with the various kinds of crap that people are willing to ingest.
I had an idea that Molly was the same thing as Ecstasy, but it’s not quite. Molly (apparently short for “molecule”) is the powder form of MDMA, a synthetic (man-made) psychoactive drug. Ecstasy is MDMA, but in tablet or pill form. Molly is considered “purer” MDMA, I guess because it hasn’t been smushed into a tablet that looks like a Smarties candy? It’s obviously not “purer” than Ecstasy, because pretty much anything could theoretically be mixed into the powder form just as easily (if not more so) than into the tablet form.
Chemically, MDMA has similar properties to both the stimulant amphetamine (speed, ADHD medicine) and the hallucinagen mescaline. Users report feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth and empathy toward others, and distortions in sensory and time perception.
Those feelings arise because MDMA affects three different brain chemicals, and specifically because it causes the brain to release large amounts of serotonin. If you’ve heard of serotonin before, that’s because most anti-depressants and many anti-anxiety medications are SSRIs: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
How is it dangerous? Let me count the ways…
So yeah, the brain starts dumping out a whole bunch of serotonin all at once, which would certainly make a person feel happy. But then a couple of days later, when the brain is completely off the “high,” the brain is all tapped out of serotonin. This is colloquially known as “Suicide Tuesday” because that’s how long it takes to come down off the weekend high, apparently.
More immediately, MDMA can cause dehydration, which can be exacerbated by hours of dancing at concerts, parties, or clubs, says Dr. Robert Glatter in Forbes. Other effects of MDMA can include dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, sweating, chills, and bruxism–forceful clenching of the teeth. That’s why pacifiers on necklaces became a “trend”–people chew on pacifiers to deal with some of the clenching.
“In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature,” explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “On rare but unpredictable occasions, this can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia), which can result in liver, kidney, or cardiovascular system failure or even death.”
Speaking of high doses…
It’s being reported by the Daily News that before she died, Olivia Rotondo told an EMS worker, “I just took six hits of Molly.”
It’s not clear where the emphasis is in that sentence. Did she “just” take six hits, as in, “just a few minutes ago, I took a whole bunch at once”? Did she mean she only took took six hits?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that even if those six hits were spread out over several hours, taking six anything is probably not a good idea. Think for a moment about all the medicines in your house. Would you take six of them? Probably not.
As I pointed out at the top of this article, toxicology reports are still pending. Jeffrey Russ’ aunt told the Daily News that law enforcement officials told the family that the recent Syracuse University graduate also had crystal meth in his pocket when he died.
What should our kids know about this stuff?
Experts recommend talking to your kids about drugs early and often. No kidding, the conversation starts at age two. By the time your children are 16 to 18, says the website DrugFree.org, they will likely already have had to make choices about drug use. They will likely already have seen peers using alcohol and drugs.
So, you really need to talk about this stuff before that, and it’s better to be specific than to talk in general terms. Talk about what’s in the news, be specific, and be detailed, recommends DrugFree.org. Because frankly, if you just tell your kids “don’t do drugs,” that’s not really very helpful.
If your kid is pre-teen or up, they may have already heard of Molly–although tweens and younger teens may not realize it. The Miley Cyrus song “We Can’t Stop” includes a lyric about “dancing with Molly”–in fact, the whole damn song is about “rolling,” or using MDMA. That video is the first place I noticed that Miley Cyrus can’t seem to keep her tongue inside her mouth any more, by the way.
I explained to my 12-year-old twin daughters that MDMA in powder form is usually called Molly, although it’s also called “Adam” (the letters of ADMA re-arranged) or “Mandy” (again with the letters). MDMA in tablet or pill form–Ecstasy–is also called E, X, or XTC, among other things. (Hearing it called XTC makes me really sad, because dear God I love that band.)
I also showed my kids some pictures of what the drugs look like. Ecstasy, for example, can look like candy:
It’s a good idea to explain why this stuff can be dangerous, and to make this easy for your kids to relate to. For example, my daughters both have anxiety. Sure, MDMA reportedly makes people feel good (for a while), but it’s impossible to know how an individual’s brain is going to react to the drug–and to the come-down. Plus, they both take SSRI medication for their anxiety. There’s no way of knowing how MDMA would interact with their meds, especially since there’s also no way of knowing what’s been mixed in with the MDMA.
On top of that, one of my daughters has ADHD, for which she takes prescription medication. The generic bottle of Adderall XR says “amphetamines” right on the label. Adding an unknown quantity (and quality) of stimulant into the mix could definitely be dangerous.
Add to that the fact that there is a long history of drug and alcohol addiction in our family tree, and Molly starts to look at lot less fun.
As part of our discussion, my daughters and I watched the Miley Cyrus “We Can’t Stop” video before I talked to them about what happened at Electric Zoo, and then again after we had our discussion.
Before we talked about Molly, my girls thought the video was “weird” and “awkward, like what’s going on with those giant teddy bears there?”
Also, one of my daughters went off on a rant about the twerking scene. Not because of the dancing, but because Miley refers to her fellow womankind as “homegirls with the big butt,” which my daughter thought was rude, hurtful, disrespectful, and racist–even if Miley was trying to make it sound okay to have a big butt–because “it isn’t nice to say that about people’s butts, and also, why are the dark-skinned women only in that part of the video?” (As writer Dodai Stewart pointed out on Jezebel, that’s the only part of the video where Miley features women of color.)
After they knew what Molly was, they had a different take on the video.
“It’s stupid,” one of my girls said. “And it’s really sad. She’s so pretty, and so talented. I hope other kids aren’t like, ‘oh, Hannah Montana is taking drugs, so it’s cool.’”
“I didn’t think it was sad,” her twin sister said. “It was alarming and disturbing. I could tell that something is wrong with her. I think she was high when she made the video. The things she was doing didn’t make sense, but not in a fun way. Since she’s famous, whatever she does, she’s going to be known for. She used to be known for being an actress and a singer and now she’s going to be known for using Molly and sticking her tongue out.”
One of the many things my daughters and I talked about this morning is decision-making. All decisions–good and bad–have repercussions. I know my kids will make bad decisions sometimes, because everyone makes bad decisions sometimes. It’s part of being human, and it’s definitely part of growing up. Sometimes bad decisions end up hurting someone’s feelings, for example. Sometimes we might choose not to study very much, and then we don’t do well on a test.
The thing is to try not to make the bad decisions that can make you dead.
The Parent Toolkit on DrugFree.org has a wealth of resources to help parents talk to their kids about drugs.
National Institute on Drug Abuse has tons of information, and it’s based on science, not media hysterics.
NIDA for Teens, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is geared toward teens. It’s clear, specific, and not condescending.