About an hour had passed, but senior Alec Peterson* still didn’t feel any different. He swallowed the bleach-white pill at the beginning of the concert with six of his friends and patiently waited through the opening act for something to kick. He had read online that it may take a couple hours or so to feel a high; he heard it may feel more subtle than alcohol or marijuana. But all Peterson could detect was a buzz. Nothing more, nothing less.
After two hours, he felt something. It was like somebody flipped a switch. Peterson noticed that every touch or brush against him felt “amazing.” People looked more attractive. He felt like he had goosebumps that wouldn’t go away. But Peterson, who in September got his first high from a drug sold by the name “molly,” said the feeling could best be described as “blatantly happy.”
“It was, like, intense,” Peterson said. “I just felt happy. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s not like being drunk or high [from marijuana]. You just are happy and you feel cool. You feel good — you really just feel good.”
Molly, a street term given by the DEA to an alternative of Ecstasy called TFMPP, is among the newest drugs that has gained considerable name recognition at East. In a poll of 107 students, 43 percent say they’re aware of the drug, 32 people in that group know someone that has done it and 9 percent have tried it. In October, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) labeled it as a “chemical of concern” and reported it is most common among youth and young adults.
At East, Peterson points to “good old fashioned peer pressure,” as the main reason it’s on the rise.
“I had friends that had done it so that kinda opened me up to it,” Peterson said. “So now that I have friends who have never done it, [they] maybe would be more open to it because I think it’s a thing that you’re definitely reassured that your peers are doing it too.”
Barbara Carreno, a public affairs officer at the DEA, says that the main appeal for TFMPP is that it is legal in all 50 states. While there are some misconceptions that illegal substances are molly — like a pure form of Ecstasy called MDMA — the DEA says the actual drug is not a controlled chemical under the “Controlled Chemicals Act” and there are no legal repercussions for possessing it.
A website that provides comprehensive information about drugs on the street called Erowid claims that MDMA is synonymous with molly, but Carreno says that this shows how “people can sell something as whatever they want.” She notes that a certain school or area can sell their product by any name they see fit — for instance, Peterson claims he was sold MDMA on both occasions he tried the drug.
But even by the DEA’s definition of molly, Carreno points out, it’s unsafe.
“Among other things, molly can slow your heart and breathing rates, impair your ability to move, and impair your body’s ability to regulate its temperature,” Carreno said. “Sometimes [this results] in dangerously high fevers, similar to ecstasy, which can cause fatally high temperatures that can’t be reversed, leading to heart, liver and kidney failure.”
Molly is also often mixed with a chemical called BZT to enhance its effects. BZT, more commonly referred to as Legal E or Legal X, is a controlled substance banned by law. Carreno often warns youth that with molly and any drug it’s easy for a dealer to slip something else in or hand out something entirely different. The most important question for a buyer to ask, according to Carreno, is “what’s in it for them?”
“Many suppliers want to make money at [teens’] expense and don’t have [their] best interests — health, safety, success, happiness, good relationships, personal and social growth — at heart,” Carreno said. “Sometimes they don’t even know you; they are in business to make money for themselves.”
Clinical addiction counselor Kevin Kufeldt from the Johnson County Mental Health Adolescent Center for Treatment said he has multiple drug dealers in session who have pawned off other substances as molly. For the most part, he sees a lot of kids selling capsulated bath salts — a more dangerous substitute for TPFMM. Kufeldt, whose job requires him to counsel troubled youth who have turned to dealing, notes that it would be surprising if pure form molly was surfacing around East.
According to Kufeldt, drug dealers from the Blue Valley School District have been known to pawn off black and blue gelatin capsules filled with bath salt as molly. He explains that they can buy and capsulize 14 grams of bath salt for around $300 and sell all of it for around $600 to $700. Individually each pill will be priced around $40. A lot of dealers even have a “hook-up” for cheaper prices so they can turn a bigger profit.
“Money is a driving motivator for a lot of these kids,” Kufeldt said. “Because in order to finance their own drug use, they need money; so they’re pushing [bath salts] off to people who are unexpectedly taking something they’re not aware of.”
He explains that while kids who get molly may expect a “heightened sense of euphoria,” bath salts give a much different sensation. He points out that the salt of choice, “Pump-It,” can create hallucinogenic feelings. Like alcohol, it can make someone black out or not feel cognizant of what they’re saying. It may make healthy people entertain the idea of committing suicide. And the reason that it has this effect, Kufeldt said, is because it causes a lack of sleep.
“If you have someone who has been sleep deprived for three days, the brain starts to play tricks on you,” Kufeldt said. “You can tie it back to military-type interrogation stuff where they’ll keep someone in custody awake for several days — it’s kind of like that type of deal where they almost become delirious.”
Kufeldt, who meets with teens in session four days a week, says that he’s spoken with kids that have dealt capsulated bath salts as molly in the Shawnee Mission School District. He explains that the Blue Valley District and around Rockhurst make up a lot of the area where he typically runs into bath salts. Kids, he said, will lie and sell their product as molly because students typically are hesitant to try something filled with “Pump-It.”
“Most people who are taking drugs are kind of weary about taking bath salts,” Kufeldt said, “because they don’t know what’s in them — they don’t know what it is.”
According to Kufeldt, this drug swapping and mixing often is what leads to negative reactions.
“It’s very dangerous [to the buyer] because they know their tolerance level for Ecstasy or molly,” Kufeldt said. “When they’re taking something that’s not molly, that’s when you’ll see a lot of overdoses or even death.”
Junior Angela Potter*, who was told that her molly was MDMA, says she had suspicions that she didn’t get the right drug about an hour into her first usage. The pill, at a concert, only helped her focus more on the music. Her friends told her that the drug would make her feel “completely happy” but she felt like it was kind of a letdown. According to her, there was never any strong sensation. She thinks it may have been an ADHD pill.
According to Potter, this kind of thing happens all the time. She said that naive kids who are looking for something fun to do may be easily coerced into buying something that is not what they wanted. Potter, who has tried the drug multiple times, says sometimes the powder in the pill has looked white and crystallized while other times it’s been more like “powder sugar.” She says it’s often hard to tell what you’re getting.
“I think that definitely by the time it gets to Johnson County, it’s probably been mixed with a ton of stuff and, like, I’ve heard of Tylenol being added to it, I’ve heard of Adderall being in it,” Potter said. “There aren’t a ton of people that are huge drug dealers in Mission Hills and Prairie Village, so I’m sure it’s not necessarily as clean and pure as it would be somewhere that’s a big drug capitol.”
Potter, who was “so scared” the first time she tried it, said that before she did the drug she asked her dealer a list of questions; she wanted to make sure she wasn’t getting “random powder in a pill.” She says that she inquired about everything from the drug’s effects to the person’s background. It made her feel better. She said that as long as she was with people she trusted, she didn’t see why not to give it a shot.
“You know, you only have one life to live,” Potter said. “Might as well try it.”
Carreno counters this point; she says that using any form of molly is reckless and can, in fact, waste a human life.
“Legal doesn’t mean safe. Molly is an industrial chemical that was not made for human consumption, and you put your health and safety at risk when you use it,” Carreno said. “And it’s important to think critically about things people want you to do or to buy — don’t just accept anything that anyone has to say, because it may not be accurate or in your best interests. You live your life through your body, and you only get one — take as good care of it.”
While there have been efforts by the DEA to make TFMPP illegal, Carreno says that it comes down to Health and Human Services (HHS). Back in 2002 when molly first made a name for itself, she says the DEA temporarily made it illegal and sent their recommendation to the HHS that it be a “controlled substance.” After they conducted scientific studies, however, the DEA was overruled.
“When Health and Human Services sends us a recommendation that says don’t control it, we can’t control it,” Carreno said. “So it had to go back to being just a regular legal substance, we had to lift our temporary control on it — so the DEA did try [to make it illegal] but Health and Human Services didn’t agree with us.”
But dealing illicit substances like bath salt is a completely different story, according to Carreno.
“If someone is dealing bath salts, they can get in trouble for that — that’s illegal,” Carreno said. “And especially if it’s anywhere near a school, there’s extra penalties for doing something around a school on top of the basic penalties.”
Student Resource Officer Joel Porter said that while he hasn’t run into any cases of students buying or selling anything referred to as “molly,” it doesn’t surprise him that it may be at East. He points out that drugs often can move from district to district as kids get bored with alcohol or marijuana.
“It doesn’t surprise me if [molly] is here and if it’s not here, I would expect to see it show up,” Porter said. “It’s always a revolving door, things are always coming through and going out.”
Although he accepts that the drug may be at East, Porter stresses to kids that they can’t trust anyone. He points out that in the past he has run into students who have told him they got a different drug than they expected — especially with molly, he said that drug dealers will do “anything to get their money.” But Porter, who knows he may see and hear more about molly in the coming future, feels there’s no reason at all why students should waste their time on it.
“My advice to people getting involved in [molly] is…don’t get involved with it — obviously there’s the legal side to it but there’s also the health side of it and the dangers it presents to you,” Porter said. “It’s not worth it, you’re throwing a lot of your life away for that stuff.”