“Purple molly.” Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you’ve tried it, maybe you’ve just heard the 2022 trap song by French hip-hop artist Serane (which, admittedly, doesn’t have much to say on the matter). So what actually is it? Why is some MDMA—or at least, substances being sold as MDMA—purple?
It’s a growing trend. Dozens of Reddit users have posted about purple molly in just the past two years, attesting to its popularity across the US and Canada. Many report having particularly agreeable experiences with these drugs, calling the high “pure” with an easy come-up and claiming few side effects, despite a possibly “speedy” edge. Others use words like “chill,” “clean,” and “smooth” to describe their rolls on what they called purple molly, and multiple posters have shared photos of purple crystals testing positive for the presence of MDMA—though that doesn’t tell us much about the purity or safety of their samples. Reddit, of course, is far from a reliable source of scientific information.
Reddit, of course, is far from a reliable source of scientific information.
DoubleBlind reached out to harm reduction specialists who agreed that purple molly is having a moment. It’s showing up prominently on the underground market, in drug testing labs, and at music festivals. According to Rachel Clark, education manager for the drug-testing nonprofit DanceSafe (which recently posted a Twitter thread on this subject), “the entire market has been flooded with purple-tinted MDMA.” We did our best to find out why that is.
So… What’s Purple MDMA?
The short answer is: Nobody knows for sure. Or, as Clark told us, “purple molly” is “a useless phrase… You either have MDMA, or you don’t.” In other words, the purple tint of crystals and powders doesn’t necessarily indicate a different substance, or say much about its quality. Anecdotal reports and scientific testing seem to agree that most of what’s being sold as “purple molly” does contain MDMA, specialists told DoubleBlind during interviews. Many samples turned into labs and testing centers test pure, while some contain adulterants—which can also be said of MDMA that is white, brown, or any other color.
Chemists and harm reduction specialists have two main theories for why some MDMA is purple. The first is that it has to do with artifacts left over from the manufacturing process. When properly synthesized and “washed” by a lab, MDMA crystals come out white. If they are brown or a different color, that usually indicates leftover impurities, which could include heavy metals like mercury or aluminum, according to DanceSafe, though that’s not necessarily dangerous. Contrary to this theory, however, Clark told us that testing has not revealed purple MDMA samples to have consistent impurities in common.
The next best guess is that the MDMA has been dyed purple, whether intentionally (as a sort of branding strategy), or unintentionally (because the MDMA was dissolved in wine or another purple substance for the purpose of covert transportation). Clark said intentional dyeing was an “obvious” hypothesis, given that “it has become a thing in the last year for traffickers to explicitly dye their products using food coloring.” The underground market is now peppered with drugs sold as “green hulk” or “purple amethyst,” but these are “just a convenient way of branding your product,” says Clark—the same way that tusi, the mysterious drug cocktail sweeping Latin America, is dyed pink.
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According to Clark, intentionally dyed drugs usually have a bright coloration. If MDMA crystals have a more subtle, grey-purple tone, then it’s more likely the result of manufacturing impurities or transfer from a solvent like wine. Clark and a reputable chemist she spoke with both think “transfer” is more likely.
Collin Kielty, a researcher with the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project, a lab that tests drug samples for free, concurred that impurities and dyeing are the two most likely hypotheses. Even their advanced testing instruments can’t differentiate between these two possibilities, so nobody knows for sure what’s causing the spread of “purple molly,” but it’s certainly common: Roughly 25 percent of the MDMA samples this project receives are purple-ish, ranging from lighter pinks to darker purples. (35 percent of their samples are white, with brown samples being less common than either white or purple.) Kielty says their lab has found no notable correlation between MDMA color and purity.
READ: MDMA: What is Molly?
Purple MDMA Crystals: Testing Before Regretting
Importantly, purple drugs may be somewhat harder to test for the presence of MDMA. As the testing-based harm reduction group Bunk Police noted on Reddit, the Marquis test kit (the main chemical reagent test used by Bunk Police) presents a dark purple color change that can be mimicked by substances dyed purple. They shared a video of a purple powder obtained at last year’s Electric Forest festival that appeared to contain MDMA based on a Marquis reagent test, but actually turned out to be a synthetic cathinone (the class of drugs commonly known as “bath salts”).
“To the trained eye, this trick is easily identifiable,” wrote the Bunk Police, “As it flashes a different color [as seen in the video] and then turns purple / black.” Clark from DanceSaff adds that “you are really looking for a black reaction,” and using another MDMA test kit such as Simon’s or Mecke will offer more clarity, since the positive reaction would be colors other than purple. Each of these tests use slightly different chemical reactants to verify the presence of MDMA. Reactions that produce colors that are different than those specified by your testing guide for each reagent suggest other chemical compounds may be present—and it can be hard to know which ones. For those looking to test before they regret, DanceSafe offers a $50 “MDMA Testing Kit” including the Marquis, Simon’s and Froehde reagents, which can also be used to test other drugs. DanceSafe also sells strips to test your drugs for the presence of fentanyl.
Testing your drugs can reduce the risk of harm, but it should not give you a false sense of security. There are important caveats to testing at home as opposed to sending samples to a lab like Vancouver Island’s, or the Erowid Center’s DrugsData, which do more complete analysis. As DanceSafe puts it, “you’re looking for red flags, not green lights.” In other words, reagent testing can’t tell you if a drug is exactly what you thought it was, but it can tell you if something’s off—whether that’s manufacturing impurities, adulterants (active drugs that have been “cut in”), or bulking agents (inactive drugs, like supplements).
In the past two years, 7.4 percent of “MDMA” samples tested by the Vancouver Island Drug Checking Project were cut with other active compounds (most commonly, MDA), and 12.2 percent contained no MDMA at all; two were just methamphetamine. These statistics are similar to those offered by the US-based DrugsData, though they report a higher number of samples containing meth. None of these numbers are generalizable, as Vancouver Island’s samples overwhelmingly come from their specific region, while DrugsData only tests samples from people who can afford to pay $100 to send them in. A 2017 study from Johns Hopkins University and DanceSafe suggests different rates of contamination. Volunteers tested pressed tabs of MDMA at music festivals over five years and found that roughly 60 percent of the total 529 samples contained MDMA or MDA—the rest did not.
“I want to caution everyone to be careful about [home testing], because you’re not chemists, and neither am I,” says Clark. “If a single rock or crystal tests black on the Marquis and blue on Simon’s, it’s statistically unlikely to be anything other than MDMA, but it’s not guaranteed.” And that’s only when you’re testing a single crystal: powders and pressed pills are “a crapshoot.” Adulterants and impurities can be concentrated in different parts of a sample, so it’s important to grind up everything you’ve got and redistribute it as evenly as possible before testing at home or sending to a lab.
In some cases, an adulterant like meth cut into MDMA could be overshadowed by the positive MDMA reaction on a test. A “mixed bag” of powder may thus appear pure when it’s not. For all these reasons and more, Clark wants everyone to remember that home testing is not foolproof: “It’s just risk mitigation.”
A Quick Guide To A Safe(er) Molly Trip
As a harm reduction organization, DanceSafe offers a “drug information” section on its webpage for people who want to learn about specific substances and how to use them in safer ways. Its MDMA section offers a guide to the history and effects of MDMA as well as advice for dosing and reducing risks. We do not endorse buying or using illegal drugs, but for those who want to roll safely, we asked Clark to summarize DanceSafe’s most important tips.
No matter the color of your MDMA, DanceSafe recommends always weighing your dose. For most people, the sweet spot will be between 80 to 125 milligrams. Clark says you can start around 100 milligrams and bump it up or down by 5-10 milligrams each time you roll. “Find the minimum dose you can happily roll on, and keep it there as long as possible,” she says, as people do develop tolerances which may not be easy to re-set, even with tolerance breaks.
DanceSafe also says it’s crucial to space out your rolls over time, as “the more frequently you roll, the higher your likelihood is of losing the magic sooner in life.” Taking MDMA more often than every three to six months has a good chance of negatively impacting your mental health. At the very least, you should wait a few rolls so your serotonin has time to replenish.
No matter how much fun you have while rolling, never forget to take care of yourself. Clark says overheating is the most serious risk, because the drug raises your body temperature, and people often take it while dancing in hot environments for hours. This can be compounded by mixing MDMA with stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines, which also raise your temperature.
Dehydration is a major concern, and overhydration perhaps an even bigger one; people overcompensate for having a dry mouth, an effect which the drug produces, by drinking too much water. Water toxicity has been the reason for many medical tent visits in recent years, says Clark. DanceSafe suggests aiming for 6 to 18 ounces of water per hour, or up to 24 ounces if you’re sweating hard; electrolytes and salty snacks can also help you stay balanced.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the Marquis test kit was the main test for MDMA, but this is actually the main test used by Bunk Police to test MDMA.