“Popped a Molly/I’m sweating, whoooo!” – Trinidad James

If this refrain is not familiar to you, then you’re either disconnected from hip-hop or just not paying attention to pop culture these days. In the past year, the millennial generation has been referencing the street drug “Molly,” and the controversy, confusion, and hysteria over it should have us all sweating.

What is Molly?

Molly is a street slang for a powder or crystal form of MDMA—methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a substance most commonly found in ecstasy pills. While Molly is often laced with any number of other ingredients, Molly became popular largely from the notion that it’s “pure” MDMA. However, in the unregulated street drug market, what comes in a pill sold as Molly may actually be something else; non-profit organizations such as Ecstasydata.org routinely test pills for their authenticity and report a disturbing number of those that are not what dealers have claimed.

Even still, there is a fear-based campaign emerging that Molly is the “new crack.” There are a number of images floating around on social media that are designed to inform readers about Molly and its harms. One (pictured reads, “It’s a drug that has cocaine, crack, excasty [sic] & bathe salt all in one. It stops your heart rate, pop one or 2 it damages your brain without you realizing it.” The image goes on to talk about the damage it does to your immune system and claims the drug is “more powerful then CRACK itself” and that rappers are responsible for the impending death of a nation. The problem? Nearly every claim listed is false, fear-inducing, and likely does less to help us deal with drugs than to stigmatize drug users and the culture of hip-hop. (And if we’re getting health information from Instagram photos wrought with misspellings, perhaps we need to sit down and assess that as well.)

Drugs are not new, hip-hop is not new—but maybe our approach to talking about them should be. Hip-hop and the Black community have had a precarious relationship with drug use, to say the least. In 1983, the now classic song “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel warned against the use and sale of cocaine. The funk-laden track framed cocaine use as more of a social problem than a social stimulant. For some, this was the start of hip-hop’s support of the anti-drug movement, but this was not the genre’s only view on cocaine at the time.

In 1984, Funk Master Wizard Wiz released an ode to the newly-arrived rock cocaine, “Crack It Up.” As the individual and communal impacts of crack became more clear, there was a public rebuke of the record—causing Tuff City Records and Funk Master Wizard Wiz to add “you better not” before the song’s original refrain of “crack it up.” While many feared that rap would spread the influence of crack, that ultimately had little to do with music and much more to do with poverty and the media’s fascination with a new “demon drug.”

Drug education in the United States often comes via casual conversation, campaigns to abstain, and drug enforcement policy from the government. Ours is a culture that typically penalizes drug users, rather than rehabilitate them. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow has masterfully demonstrated the impacts of such policies on the Black community. She underscores how socially dangerous in can be to rely on rumors and an abstinence-only approach with regard to addressing drug use. Ironically, the message of “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel did not deter the two artists themselves from eventually abusing cocaine. We need to have a different conversation about drugs that is based in reality and responsibility.

Like the “Reefer Madness” propaganda of the twentieth century the emergent concern and fascination with molly is likely misdirected. Weaving narratives of community destruction, instant addiction, and moral decay will not deter people from trying drugs and will only further stigmatize and likely criminalize drug users. The only way to break molly madness is to have responsible and accurate conversations about drug use, drug abuse, and individual/community impacts. While a song may start a dialogue, it is our responsibility to continue the discussion with sound information and realistic approaches to drugs in our communities, not fear and fantasy.

Special thanks to Jack Levinson, PhD for his assistance with this article.

Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website.