By Lauren Smith

Updated: 31 July 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon

The slang terms ‘molly’ and ‘ecstasy’ refer to the same substance: the stimulant 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA. Ecstasy usually means tablets of this drug, which may contain other substances, while Molly refers to a crystalline powder, supposedly pure. However, both drugs have a high likelihood of being cut with other substances, from caffeine to bath salts and fentanyl. And in many cases the difference between the drugs is simply a shift in terminology between generations: 90s ravers took ‘ecstasy,’ while people at EDM parties today took take ‘Molly.’

Molly vs Ecstasy: What’s the difference?

What is MDMA?

MDMA is a stimulant: it makes you feel exhilarated, sociable, and alert. It boosts feelings of empathy, affection, and closeness with others—lending it the name "the love drug."

MDMA also has hallucinogenic properties, producing mild hallucinations and enhancing colors, sounds, and sensations.

MDMA is a party drug. It’s heavily associated with rave culture and also consumed at nightclubs and festivals, where it enhances the user’s experience of the music and lights and creates social cohesion.

It’s synthetic and when first produced, appears as a white crystalline powder.

What is ecstasy?

MDMA was initially used in psychotherapy and couple’s therapy, valued for its lowering of inhibitions and boosting of compassion and dubbed “windows” or “empathy.” When it crossed over into the party scene in the early 80s, it was rebranded as “ecstasy” and sold in pill form.[1]

It was as ecstasy—or E, X, XTC—that MDMA exploded in popularity over the next decade, carried around the world by the acid house and rave scenes. Today 'ecstasy' still refers to colored pills, stamped with logos, and frequently sold at raves and nightclubs.

In many cases, these ecstasy pills contain other substances. Common adulterants include amphetamine (speed), cocaine, and caffeine. In some cases, there’s no MDMA present at all.[2] 

People still use 'ecstasy' to refer to party drugs in pill form. The term is also commonly used by older people first exposed to the drug through the rave scene.

What is Molly?

Molly, abbreviated from molecular, refers to a crystalline powder that purports to be pure MDMA. In the UK, the term Mandy is preferred.[3]

Molly may be snorted, put in capsules and swallowed, or wrapped in cigarette paper and ingested, a practice called bombing.

Many party drug users believe that Molly is purer than ecstasy pills and therefore less hazardous. But research has debunked this and found a range of substances, some of them highly dangerous, in powders sold as Molly.

Is Molly purer than ecstasy?

The purity of Molly varies widely, but you shouldn’t assume the powder you’re buying is purer than ecstasy tablets. In fact, research has found little difference between the contents of Molly and ecstasy samples. In many cases, Molly is simply ground-up tablets that would be sold to others, likely older, users as ecstasy.

One study found that among Molly samples submitted to a drug-checking service in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015, just 60% tested positive for any MDMA.[4]

Testing also uncovered a range of adulterants in the samples, including:

  • methylone

  • cathinones (Flakka): amphetamine-like stimulants that can cause paranoia, hallucinations, panic attacks, and "excited delirium" (extreme agitation and violence)[5]

  • methamphetamine 

  • benzylpiperazine (BZP): a stimulant similar to amphetamine

  • dextromethorphan: a cough suppressant that acts as a dissociative hallucinogen

  • mephedrone (M-CAT, meow meow): a stimulant in the amphetamine and cathinone class

  • amphetamine

  • cocaine

  • LSD

  • paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA): a dangerous stimulant that can cause overdoses and death at low doses 

It’s also likely that Molly and other party drugs are being cut with ketamine. Researchers in New York City found traces of ketamine in the hair of around a third of attendees at EDM parties who claimed they hadn’t taken the dissociative anesthetic in at least a year.[6]

There have also been reports of ecstasy pills and Molly cut or contaminated with fentanyl, a very strong opioid, lethal at very small doses (1-2mg).[7]

In some places, the purity of local MDMA supplies is declining rapidly, taking users by surprise. Among hundreds of suspected ecstasy/Molly/Mandy samples submitted for screening at UK music festivals, 93% contained MDMA in 2019. By 2021, that had fallen to just 55%, with an explosion in the presence of cathinones (bath salts) and caffeine, each now detected in a fifth of samples.[8]

How can I find out what’s in my Molly or ecstasy?

If you decide to use MDMA, you can reduce your risks by knowing exactly what you’re taking. Adulterants and contaminants increase the likelihood of adverse reactions, overdoses, and even deaths. Even a substance as innocuous as caffeine can be dangerous when combined with MDMA, leading to a dangerously fast heart rate and elevated body temperature.[9]

Drug checking, also known as pill screening, is a harm reduction service that allows you to find out the content, purity, and. strength of drugs you intend to take, anonymously and without fear of arrest. Rapid drug checking is offered at music events and in nightlife areas, usually using colorimetric analysis. DIY drug-checking kits are also available for you to run similar tests at home.

If you can wait, you can send samples away for more accurate gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) testing.

However, laws about drug testing vary by state and country. In some U.S. states, personal drug testing kits may be considered drug paraphernalia.[10]