Users who haven't had exposure to molly's serious negative side effects sometimes think of it as a "safer" drug. But Hart, the Columbia associate professor, said claims that any drug is safe are ridiculous.
"A lot has to do with the doses people take," Hart said. "As you increase the dose over an extended period of time, you can expect to see some negative effects. That's a general rule the public really needs to understand."
Hart said he believes accurate education, not law enforcement, is key to minimizing the risks of illicit drugs such as molly. Because so many young people have already tried molly, he said experts need to make sure they are being realistic about the dangers of its use.
"What we've done and what we consistently do is we include people that exaggerate the harms," Hart said. "Kids are not listening because they've already had the experience. ... They (think they) should reject everything we're saying because we're not being accurate, and they know it."
'A softening against drugs'
Molly's rise in popularity can, in part, be attributed to the current culture, said Tammy Anderson, a professor of sociology at the University of Delaware who has studied the use of drugs, including MDMA, in nightclubs. "We're at a place here historically that people don't think marijuana is a drug anymore."
Although marijuana, like molly, remains on the DEA's list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, it's a drug that many citizens think of not only as minor but as one that should be legal. And 17 states have legalized it for medical use.
There is now greater permissiveness and lax attitudes toward drugs such as marijuana, so people move on to other substances, such as molly, and give themselves permission to use them, Anderson said.
"We are moving into a post-war on drugs era. We're seeing a softening of drug laws and a softening against drugs, especially among young people."
For now, the DEA is more focused on fighting the abuse of prescription medications such as Oxycontin and Valium. But as admirers plaster posters at concerts asking, "Have you seen molly?" officials can only hope she stays missing.