club drugs

What’s Really in Street-Bought Molly?

At Wesleyan University on February 22, 11 students were sickened by psychoactive drugs sold as “molly” — the vernacular name for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, abbreviated MDMA. The powder in question, according to police, contained a mix of other chemicals, and four students have been arrested in the case.

No buyer of molly knows exactly what he or she is getting, of course. But there are ways to find out, and New York arranged to test several samples obtained in the city over the past year. Home-test kits, sold through, involve placing a couple of drops of dye on a few grains of the drug. They show results within 30 seconds, which can then be compared with a color chart. There are four such tests in the standard kit, and they indicate various ingredients and levels of purity. But they can be inexact — among other things, they do not distinguish between MDMA and its sister drug MDE — and the color changes can be difficult for amateurs to parse. (One of the four tests, for example, produces almost the same hue for heroin, LSD, and MDMA, although the others draw those distinctions more clearly.) 

So we tested the tests. Earth and Fire Erowid, a couple who run a California nonprofit, arrange anonymized testing of molly and other drugs through Drug Detection Laboratories — one of the very few private labs certified for this work — and then post the results and photos (at as a kind of spotter’s guide, partly with the intent of keeping clubgoers out of the hospital. At their other site (, they have posted thousands of detailed reports filed by users of psychoactive substances, forming a huge database of pharmacological experience.


Size: 100 mg.

Sample A. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: This was purchased in February 2014. Source was recommended to the buyer by a friend “who claims his guy always has pure, good stuff.”

The sample A home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: Tests 1, 2, and 3 indicate the presence of either MDMA or its sister drugs, MDA and MDE. Test 4 turned blue, and that rules out MDA. So it’s either MDMA or MDE.

Lab Results: MDMA.
Described by one Erowid report as the “social lubricant to infinity,” molly induces strong euphoric, loving feelings and makes people extremely uninhibited and flirty. It also can raise body temperature to a dangerous level, and Erowid’s reports are full of reminders to drink lots of water when using.


Size: 500 mg.

Sample B. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: An off-white powder in a red capsule, this sample was purchased in August 2014. User reports a “fun experience, laughing, talking,” but adds that it didn’t produce the usual “empathy thing,” which made him suspect it wasn’t molly.

The sample B home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: All four of these tests came up positive for butylone and/or methylone, two other psychoactive drugs with similar effects to MDMA but generally milder.

Lab Results: Ethylone.
Ethylone—very similar to methylone and butylone, but less common, especially in New York—leaves one feeling euphoric but (as the user noted above) without the I-love-everyone hit that comes with MDMA. “A lot of people who don’t have much experience,” says Earth Erowid, “would just say ‘It’s weak molly.’ 


Size: 100 mg.

Sample C. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: A dark-brown powder with an unusual, funky licorice smell and taste— “Never seen it look like this,” notes the buyer, who obtained it last Halloween. He adds that it was a “good experience, less intense than some.”

The sample C home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: Like the first sample on these pages, this returned positive results for the MDMA family, and the white result in Test 4 points to MDA in particular.

Lab Results: MDA.
This is MDMA’s sibling, known for trippier results but also speedier ones, with more jaw-clenching and the like. Typical Erowid report: “While there were no MDMA-esque lovey-dovey feelings or tactile enhancement, personal connections were quickly established and many soul-searching topics were discussed.”


Size: 300 mg.

Sample D. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: A medium-brown powder in a clear capsule, bought on February 26 at $20 per dose. A friend of the buyer’s who tried it said it was “the best stuff he’d ever done.”

The sample D home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: Similar to the previous set of tests: Three positives for the MDMA family, and a white test indicating that it’s MDA. The lighter colors in Tests 1 and 2 hint at less molly and more of something else.

Lab Results: MDA, methylsulfonylmethane, and methamphetamine.
More MDA, with two extra ingredients. Methylsulfonylmethane isn’t really a recreational drug; it is sold as a supplement under iffy claims that it treats arthritis. As for the meth, “that’s not uncommon to see,” says Earth Erowid, explaining that it can come from cross-contamination in the factory—something like an unwashed scoop.


Size: 100 mg.

Sample E. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: Purchased on October 22, 2014, it’s a yellowish powder that came from a seller known for prescription meds.

The sample E home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: Like sample B, it came up positive for butylone and/or methylone, and had a stronger response in the second test, which suggests it might be purer.

The Lab Test: Ethylone.
This, too, also turned out to be ethylone.


Size: 50 mg.

Sample F. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Experience: A pure-white powder purchased this past November, and represented as MDMA from San Francisco, where (rumor had it) the supply was said to be purer.

The sample F home test. Photo: Bobby Doherty

The Home Test: All four drops came up positive for MDMA. Not much argument there.

The Lab Test: MDMA.
Just as expected.

*This article appears in the March 9, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

What’s Really in Street-Bought Molly?