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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Molly

Is Molly a stupid name? Is MDMA best suited to dancing or working through trauma? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Molly! Will it kill you? Was Miley dancing with it or herself? And what’s the connection between Molly and heaving Victorian breasts? It’s time to deal out some MDMA facts.

Lie #1: “MDMA Is Lethal, It Needs to Be Illegal”

MDMA shouldn’t be illegal. You can die doing it, but MDMA itself is very unlikely to kill you. That might not seem like an important distinction — the net result is the same, a completely avoidable tragedy — but when it comes to things like drug laws, distinctions are extremely important. 

The last few years have seen a spike in MDMA-related deaths, most of which have involved other factors — contaminants, underlying health issues or not seeking medical help. The first and third of these would massively benefit from less stringent laws.

A lot of the deaths involving MDMA are the result of other, cheaper substances mixed in there. Paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), which is toxic in much smaller amounts than MDMA, is sometimes used, as are N-Ethylpentylone (bath salts) and N-methoxybenzyl, which can lead to renal failure, heart attacks and strokes. MDMA’s illegal status means when you buy a handful of pills or bag of powder from a stranger, you’ve got no idea what you’re actually taking. An analysis of drugs taken at an Australian festival found only 51 percent of the pills involved contained MDMA at all. 

Even discounting the risks involved with unexpected contaminants, wildly varying MDMA levels can lead to all kinds of trouble. If you’re used to doing X amount because the stuff you usually get isn’t particularly potent, then there’s a very strong batch, heyo, you’re on the moon. If MDMA was legal and regulated, this would be vastly less of an issue as you would know what you were buying.

Deaths involving MDMA aren’t “overdoses,” but are often the result of seemingly opposing problems. Overheating is a real risk, exacerbated by things like, say, dancing with thousands of other people in a cramped indoor space. However, the best way of treating that — making sure you drink plenty of water — can also go dangerously wrong. MDMA encourages your body to retain fluids, and drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia, in which the balance of salts and water is thrown off. (This is what led to the death of British teenager Leah Betts in 1995, an enormously publicized incident in the U.K. — rather than the “contaminated pills” blamed in the tabloids, she died as a result of drinking seven liters of water in 90 minutes.) Add in the diuretic/dehydrating effects of alcohol and everything is a mess — it’s all a tricky balancing act that needs a bit of explanation, and banging a hammer while shouting “JUST DON’T TAKE DRUGS YOU ASSHOLES” isn’t actually of any help to anyone.

How many ambulances have been called too late because the friends of a stricken partygoer were worried about getting in trouble? How many huge parties have been held in unsafe, poorly-ventilated venues without fire exits (or on-site medical staff) because they had to be off the beaten track to avoid being raided by the police? Ultimately, legalization, regulation and education will save far more lives drugs-wise than yelling at people and banning things ever has.

Lie #2: “This Stuff Is Great Because It Makes Me Want to Dance and Hug People!”

Another cool thing to do on MDMA? Revisit the trauma of gunning down defenseless people you had been conditioned to believe were the enemy, entirely due to political decisions made by people far higher up the chain than you both, and who viewed you both with disdain. Remembering and processing the feeling of squeezing the trigger and seeing flesh explode, an act at once removed and intimate, the consequence of countless decisions you had no part in making and yet, in that moment, involved you and only you. MDMA is great for that!

Psychotherapists have experimented off and on with using MDMA to treat patients, and in recent years, tests on sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder have shown incredibly positive results. A 2018 study published in The Lancet Psychiatry described how firefighters, police officers and soldiers suffering PTSD were given MDMA in concert with therapy, and by a year after the trial, 16 of the 26 participants no longer met the diagnostic criteria of PTSD.

The scientists involved do insist, however, that this is a complicated procedure of medicine-assisted psychotherapy, rather than a suggestion that trauma-addled war veterans just need to pop a few mollies and cheer up. Something worth bearing in mind.

Lie #3: “‘Molly’? That’s a Cool Name for It!”

As nicknames for MDMA go, Molly is phenomenally stupid. It’s short for “molecule,” which is, again, hella dumb. Everything is made of molecules. Like, “weed” isn’t the most useful of names for weed, as there are lots of things which are weeds but aren’t weed, but “weeds” is at least a subset of items smaller than “everything.” The subset “things that consist of molecules” isn’t a subset, it’s everything in the fucking world, and therefore using it as a way of referring to one extremely specific substance (3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) is as dumb as all the butts in the land.

Lie #4: “In Dublin’s Fair City / Where the Girls Are So Pretty / I First Set My Eyes on Sweet Molly Malone / She Wheeled Her Wheelbarrow / Through Streets Broad and Narrow / Crying ‘Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive-O!’”

This all seems well and good, right? Dublin is indeed a fair city, with beautiful spots like the Ha’penny Bridge. Plus, lots of famous beautiful women hail from there — from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s hilariously-surnamed Alison Doody to WWE superstar Becky Lynch — which suggests the claim of the girls being pretty is probably true. The less-true bit? All the rest of it. As comprehensively described by historian Sean J. Murphy, a song that began as a straightforward bit of made-up fluff somehow ended up being seen as factual — the woman described in the song didn’t exist, but at some point she acquired a birthday, a fishmonger/sex-worker double life and, if the statue built of her in Dublin is anything to go by, tig ol’ bitties.

Nothing wrong with that though, right? Well, not necessarily. As Murphy points out, huge amounts of genuinely historically significant buildings in Dublin have been bulldozed by the same people building motorboatable statues. “Unfortunately, there is a deadly linkage between the kind of pseudo-heritage and disregard for historical truth represented by the Molly Malone promotion, and the continuing neglect and destruction of Dublin’s archaeological and architectural heritage.” he writes. “Faced with criticisms concerning the razing of Norse remains, the destruction of Georgian houses, the dereliction of churches or the desecration of old graveyards, the powers that be can dismiss the criticism as carping, and point for example to investment in public sculpture such as that of Molly Malone as evidence of care for heritage and culture in the city.” Municipal funds are finite, and fake-preserving something made up surely shouldn’t come at the expense of genuine heritage.

The world is having a bit of a rethink at the moment about who is and isn’t worth having statues of. On the scale of it, a buxom fictional woman is of course nowhere near as questionable as some of the bastards immortalized in stone, but it’s all worth thinking about. 

Lie #5: “Whoa, Miley Cyrus Is Singing About Molly on the Radio, That’s Nuts”

When Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” came out in 2013, the word “Molly” was bleeped out on MTV until producers insisted she was actually saying “Miley.” As Cyrus told journalists, she deliberately employed a bit of ambiguity pronunciation-wise at certain points so the lyric, “Dancing with Molly” sounded enough like “Dancing with Miley” that it was seen as palatable to the mainstream. It was clever, kind of?

Two decades earlier, Scottish electronica group The Shamen had gone for the same thing with their 1995 song “Ebeneezer Goode” — on the surface, a tale of a misunderstood gentleman, but in reality an enthusiastic tribute to ecstasy. Individual tablets were known at the time as “Es” (as in “taking an E” or “buying some Es”), and the song was a cheerfully contrived way of getting to chant “Es are good” 30-odd times on the radio in the middle of the day. The dropped Hs of Cockney frontman Mr. C also lent themselves to lines like, “E makes you feel fine” and “E’s ever so good!”

Silly! Fun! It’s all silly, silly fun! Let’s all have a great big party!