"Have you heard of molly?" the girl next to me asked. She was swaying from side to side, bobbing her head to the bass vibrating throughout the sold-out venue.
The room around us was buzzing with anticipation. Music was blasting. People were dancing and laughing and taking pictures. There was less than an hour until showtime, and I was about to see one of my favorite artists, so I was feeling pretty good. The girl next to me, Jessica, was obviously feeling better.
I turned to my fellow concertgoers, watching as they met Jessica's eyes, nodding their heads knowingly. Of course they had heard of molly.
Turns out, molly is a pretty popular lady these days.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, molly is the powder or crystal form of MDMA -- or 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a chemical drug most commonly known for its use in the pressed pill Ecstasy.
Unlike Ecstasy, which has a reputation for being laced with everything from caffeine to methamphetamine, molly -- a name shortened from "molecule" -- is thought of as "pure" MDMA.
The DEA labels it an illegal Schedule 1 controlled substance, considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted use in medical treatment.
Molly is abundant at music festivals -- if you know where to look. The third and final day of New York's Electric Zoo music festival was canceled Sunday after two concert-goers died and at least four others were hospitalized due to what is believed to be MDMA-related causes, police said; it is unclear whether the drug was used in Ecstasy pills or in its "pure" form of molly.
Last year, at Miami's Ultra Music Festival, fliers littered the landscape mentioning her name like missing child posters: "Have you seen molly?" And when Madonna took to the stage to introduce an artist, the pop star asked the audience: "How many people in this crowd have seen molly?" A slew of cheers answered, though Madonna later said she'd been referring to a song, not to an illegal drug.
Hip-hop artists claim they know her -- she's casually mentioned by 2 Chainz in the Nicki Minaj track "Beez In the Trap," by Childish Gambino in his song "Unnecessary," by Kanye West in "Mercy," by Danny Brown in "Die Like a Rockstar." Even Miley Cyrus is familiar, although the line "We like to party, dancing with molly" was bleeped out in her most recent performance of "We Can't Stop" on the MTV Video Music Awards.
It seems the drug is on the minds of many. But questions about who -- or what -- molly really is remain.
Contradictions about makeup
An experience with molly starts with a bitter taste, users say, which is soon forgotten as the high kicks in.
"It felt like everything was amplified. It felt euphoric -- almost like a crazy adrenaline rush for a long time," said Evan, a young professional working in Michigan.
"You feel a lot more loose and comfortable in your environment," said recent Georgia high school graduate Jessica, who'd never used molly until the concert in July -- a friend's recommendation convinced her to give molly a try.
And then, usually after a few hours -- depending on the dose that is taken -- of dancing and moving and talking, the trip comes to an end.
"(After it was over), it wasn't like a depression, but it was like, 'Aw man, I wish I felt that way again,' " Jessica said.
MDMA acts as a stimulant and a psychedelic, according to the DEA. After being inhaled, eaten or parachuted -- folded into a tissue and swallowed -- molly ushers in euphoria. It floods users' brains with neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, making them feel elated, empathic and full of energy.
MDMA first found popularity in the form of Ecstasy as the drug of choice among ravers at underground nightclubs in the early 1990s. But when questions arose over the purity of Ecstasy --- the drug was often mixed with other ingredients ---- people turned their attention to a purer form, said Nathan Messer, board president of the nonprofit organization DanceSafe, which promotes health and safety within the nightclub community.
"You knew you were getting the real thing and nothing but the real thing," he said. "Because people knew that (molly) was trustworthy, it became the go-to thing."
Molly is a street name that has been in use for about a decade, Messer said. Although it originally referred simply to MDMA, the title "molly" is now given to a variety of legal substances with similar chemical structures.
Its exact makeup has been confused and contradicted among both users and experts. The DEA has labeled molly as MDMA, but Carl Hart, a Columbia University associate professor of psychology, said many researchers consider molly to be the chemical 6-APB, or Benzo Fury.
Messer said MDPV, methylone, mephedrone and butylone -- different substances or drugs -- are often sold as molly, while users such as Evan have heard countless rumors of molly's makeup, including that it's created from fertilizer.
Number of users unclear
Molly users tend be young, ages 16 to 24, said Pax Prentiss, co-founder and CEO of Southern California's Passages rehabilitation centers.