Caleb is applying the Michael Pollan approach to his vice of choice: Educate yourself and stay low on the food chain. But not every would-be user is as savvy or as safe. In the past two years, the Electric Daisy Carnival has seen two attendees die and dozens hospitalized as a result of what were said to be MDMA-related causes. And in a massive bust last August in the college town of Syracuse, New York, the $500,000 worth of Molly that police seized contained no MDMA at all. The incident prompted a group of students to launch a website debunking Molly as an urban legend.

"The No. 1 risk with MDMA is drug substitution," says Julie Holland, a New York University psychiatry professor who has run trials investigating MDMA's therapeutic potential. Dr. Holland deems MDMA "relatively safe" when used in a controlled environment (in fact, the compound has been found to be remarkably effective as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder), but out on the street, she says, "you can never be sure of what you're getting." In legitimate markets, increasing demand tends to improve quality; with illicit drugs, it often does the opposite. "For the longest time, we would almost never see something sold as Molly that wasn't," DanceSafe's Messer says. "It was like a cottage industry comprised of relatively ethical psychedelics manufacturers. They liked MDMA, and they wanted other people to be able to have it." But now that Molly is such a hot commodity, its strongest selling points—purity and a worry-free roll—are most at risk of being exploited by dealers.

Yet despite its popularity, there's evidently still enough small-batch Molly making good on its promise of wholesomeness to move beyond the rave and party scenes and into more serene settings. Frankie (who asked that his last name not be used), a 26-year-old underwear model who lives in Hollywood, was turned on to Molly by a museum curator who invited him, a clothier, and a DJ to his home to try it out—while meditating. "We're all Trader Joe's, free-range-chicken types," Frankie says—body-conscious, nonsmoking, moderate drinkers who assiduously avoid factory-produced food. "The rest of L.A. does Ecstasy. Molly's definitely more of a West Hollywood thing."

When they arrived, the curator's living room was lit with candles. Faint chill-out music was being piped through concealed speakers. The four sat on the floor cross-legged, wrapped some Molly up in tissue paper (which conceals the harsh chemical taste), and "parachuted" it.

"We meditated until 1 a.m.," Frankie says. "Then we went out and partied. It was a gradual ascent and a gradual descent—not like the Ecstasy rocket ship. Since then, I've done Molly at the Philharmonic."

For all its heady appeal to notions of purity and good taste, Molly is superior to stepped-on pills and powders in an entirely practical sense: Sex on Molly, Caleb says, is not only unbelievably intense but also hassle-free—which can't always be said of speed-spiked E. It's so good, he says, that some connoisseurs actually recommend against it. "They're like, 'Don't do it! It'll be too different when you're sober!'" But even for Caleb, who loves the stuff, that ascribes a near-mythical power to Molly that no drug deserves. "You can have a great time either way," he says, and in the end that's what makes Molly so alluring. "You're the architect of your own experience."

• • •

BATTLE OF THE BRANDS: ECSTASY VS. MOLLY

Habitat
ECSTASY: Warehouse

MOLLY: Beach house
Candy Doppelgänger

ECSTASY: Smarties

MOLLY: Sugar in the Raw
The Tell

ECSTASY: Teeth grinding

MOLLY: Finger licking
Chaser

ECSTASY: Red Bull

MOLLY: Kombucha
Ground Zero for Users

ECSTASY: South of Market, San Francisco

MOLLY: Farmer's market, Hollywood
Pilgrimage Site

ECSTASY: Burning Man

MOLLY: Marfa, Texas
Anthem

ECSTASY: The Prodigy, "Smack My Bitch Up"

MOLLY: MGMT, "Time to Pretend"
Co-opted by Madonna

ECSTASY: Ray of Light

MOLLY: MDNA
Grooming Product

ECSTASY: Neon face paint

MOLLY: Kiehl's Facial Fuel
Collective Activity

ECSTASY: Group dancing

MOLLY: Group meditation
Denim of Choice

ECSTASY: JNCO/Flare

MOLLY: Naked & Famous/Slim
Hangover Cure

ECSTASY: Morning spliff

MOLLY: Morning jog
Jewelry of Choice

ECSTASY: Nose ring

MOLLY: Wedding ring
Best End Result

ECSTASY: Sex

MOLLY: Sex

Click through for a brief history of MDMA >>