Molly, Adam, MDMA: Same Drug, Different Name


Drugs aren’t new. But the names sure change.

Whether it’s to shake the police or just to embrace a changing cultural tide, the slang we use for drugs seems to constantly evolve.

But with all the buzz about molly, from the range of celebration to denouncement in rap culture to what some have called the “millennial drug of choice” and it possibly causing deaths at popular music festivals, the not-so-new drug is breathing new life into the drug debate.

In a recent New York Times profile on the proliferation of molly, a source is quoted as saying, “Molly is the big thing now. Coke is sort of grimy and passé. Weed smells too much and is also sort of low rent and junior high.” And the stats prove this assertion, with emergency room visits doubling since 2004, according to the report.

So how did it get the name molly? And why have many other slang terms for MDMA not caught on in the same way?

For background, molly is a form of MDMA, the chemical that powers ecstasy, and usually comes powdered or crystallized. Regarded by some as “pure,” molly works as both a stimulant and a psychedelic — as well as a Schedule 1 illegal substance. But according to CNN, millennials don’t think it’s as dangerous as the law denotes, and 17 states legalizing it bolsters this assumption. The substance does act on serotonin, which boosts feelings of bliss and euphoria and also perceived levels of energy. Plus, it doesn’t cause some of the same distortions of senses that other hallucinogens (looking at you, LSD) do.

MDMA, or if you want the more technical name — 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine — was first created in the early 1900s for serious medical usage. It gained a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s when therapists hoped it could be applied to psycho-therapeutic measures in order to get patients to be more open in meetings.

It sprung up in gay dance clubs in Dallas under the name “Adam” in the 1980s, a nickname that some have credited to a therapist who used the drug in his sessions. It also garnered the name ecstasy toward the early and mid-1980s. With a popularity sprung from psychedelic music centering on nightclubs and raves, it was positioned similarly to LSD and its role in the youth subculture in the 1960s. Some other common names for the drug throughout the years have been “hug drug” for its ability to enhance the pleasure from closeness and the relieving of anxiety and “agony,” a dichotomous nickname to combat ecstasy used by public officials and health advocates that warned of the drug’s long term effects after it was classified as an illegal substance in 1985.

Seen as a rave drug throughout the 1990s, many have denoted the rise of molly’s place in public consciousness with a rise in the more mainstream popularity of electronic dance music.

And molly, a nickname rumored to be derived from the drug being nothing but pure MDMA molecules, is the most popular of the names for the drug, which in some circles has also been called mandy, muds and madman, a play on the shortening of the chemical name. (See: MaDMAn.)

Will the name molly stick around? Or do you think people are already trying to find the next nickname for the popular party drug?