The girl next door is hiding a dark secret - College students unwittingly ingest bath salts under the pretense that it’s Molly. Should we excuse their criminal acts that follow?

Newsweek published an article this week in the wake of a terrifying incident at Wesleyan College in Connecticut when 10 students at one party received serious medical attention after they thought they ingested Molly, a supposedly purified MDMA (Ecstasy). The drug spiked in popularity in the late 2000s, especially amongst college kids. The drug enhances elation and users frequently report elevated feelings of empathy and care. It makes you nicer, like the girl next door – Molly.

But as Max Kunter (Newsweek) reports, drug dealers use the false sense of security of Molly to market a significantly broader class of synthetic drugs that only 13% of the time contains any MDMA. DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said that when college kids ingest what they believe is Molly, “[they] are really playing Russian Roulette.” As Kunter points out, what students actually take on occasion is a synthetic form of cathinones. If that sounds familiar, it’s because those are bath salts. The same bath salts that departed one Florida man so beyond the realm of reality that he decided to eat another man’s face.

The differences in Molly and bath salts are staggering. While Molly certainly has risks, namely dehydration and rapid increases in body temperature and heart rate, it also comes with notable benefits when under proper control, such as reducing fear and increasing empathy. That’s why research and development surrounding the drug has expanded to hopefully counter some of the evils of PTSD for returning servicemen and women. Synthetic bath salts, on the other hand, are quite literally poisonous. It causes paranoia, complete memory loss, increased heart rates, and death. And that’s just to the person who ingested the drug. The psychotic episode that follows can very easily turn a dark corner and threaten the safety of all those around the person.

So, what about those crimes committed when students intend to take Molly but instead involuntarily ingest bath salts? “The absence of consciousness not only precludes the existence of any specific mental state, but also excludes the possibility of a voluntary act without which there can be no criminal liability. State v. Williams, 296 N.C. 693 (1979). While that doesn’t apply to voluntarily ingested substances (drinking), it can apply to involuntarily taking drugs that leaves one’s mind without the capacity to consciously think and reason. Courts usually impute a ‘constructive’ knowledge on the defendant in these analyses. Judges want to know if the defendant knew, or had reason to know, that the ingested drug could impair his/her mental faculties in such a manner as leaving them without the ability to control their mind. State v. Highsmith, 173 N.C. 600, 605 (2005). In application to college students and Molly, perhaps it is possible with the right set of facts to offer that as a defense. They ingest a drug they think will increase their cognitive abilities to empathize and reason, but in reality ingest a drug that does the complete opposite.