It all started with a conversation with a stranger at a bar. Talk of trance music led to talk of drugs, which led to talk of moon rocks, a controlled substance I'd never heard of. Turns out it contains MDMA, like ecstasy, but it's supposedly better. Much better. “Life-changing,” folks described it at festivals and on various online forums. “It opened the window to a transcendental state of consciousness.” Also: “The best high I've experienced.”

“Moon rocks make you feel extraordinarily empathetic and ecstatic,” says Goof, a retired ecstasy and acid dealer. (He requested his real name not be used because … he's a retired drug dealer). “Basically, if you ever get offered a moon rock, absolutely take it, no questions asked.”

Intrigued, I do what any other rational person would do. I set out to learn more.

First I have to get my terminology straight. MDMA is derived from safrole, an essential oil from the roots of the Cinnamomum parthenoxylon tree. This oil is synthesized with a variety of other chemicals and processed in a lab. It's the core component of the pill ecstasy, beloved for decades because it makes users profoundly happy by releasing serotonin and dopamine, which create feelings of love and intimacy. It makes raves better by inhibiting chemicals that cause depression and social anxiety.

You may also have heard of molly, which contains MDMA and is about as common as ecstasy these days. While performing with Avicii at Miami's Ultra Music Festival last March, even Madonna was talking about it. “How many people in this crowd have seen molly?” she asked. (She also titled her latest album MDNA.) Molly is sold as loose powder that comes in a bag or a gel capsule. You lick it off your fingertip.

Ecstasy and molly both are derived from MDMA rock crystals that have been crushed into powder. But they're often cut with various chemical adulterants — sometimes cheap and dangerous methamphetamines and shit like bath salts — that negate its purity.

Moon rocks, then, are crystals derived from MDMA synthesis that aren't cut with anything — essentially, pure MDMA. It is this purity that makes them both attractive and rare. They're typically cloudy, with a brown or yellowish hue, and they're ingested by breaking off a piece of the crystal and letting it dissolve on the tongue.

My curiosity piqued, I begin placing calls. First I talk to an expert.

“Moon rocks is a newer term,” says Carissa Cornwell, national outreach director for DanceSafe, a nonprofit that travels to festivals providing drug testing and educational resources about safe recreational drug use. “Rocks are rarer than MDMA powder or pressed pills, but I saw more this last summer than in any summer past.”

“Moon rocks are hard to find because the price-to-cost ratio isn't beneficial enough for drug dealers to sell them,” adds an L.A.-based friend of a friend, who assures me he's not a drug dealer himself. “While the average street price of MDMA in L.A. hovers at $80 a gram, which breaks down to $8 a dose, moon rocks and sassafras [a high-grade form of molly] go for about $100 a gram, meaning that drug dealers can make more money by breaking rocks down into powder, cutting them with something, putting them in a pill capsule and charging $12 to $18 per pill.”

Puts in Cornwell: “People definitely get excited when there are moon rocks around.”

So, where the hell are they? The electronic dance music world, I speculate, so I ask around at various raves to see if anyone has a bead on some. (The ones who didn't look like narcs, that is.) Most just give me a confused look. One dude at Hard Summer, however, says this: “Taking moon rocks reminded me of the first time I took MDMA, because it had that really strong uppity sensation. Moon rocks really make you want to dance.”

Meanwhile, my calls to an extended network of dealers, aficionados, club kids, Burners, hippies and others prove fruitless. So I turn to the Silk Road, an online marketplace trading in pot, hash, LSD, cocaine, ecstasy and other illegal products. (It's a somewhat mysterious organization, but most of its vendors are in the United States and the United Kingdom.)

Launched early last year, the Silk Road employs a user-feedback system similar to Amazon's, which allows buyers to find dealers they trust. Satisfaction rates are surprisingly high; according to, the site boasts about $22 million in annual sales. Recently several top vendors have suddenly disappeared from the site, though, leaving some worried that a bust is imminent.

In any case, my first task was to download the required computer anonymity software. After choosing the username “JustForResearch” I found loads of moon rocks for sale, primarily from Germany and the Netherlands and typically labeled “MDMA crystals.” Depending on quantity, prices ranged from 30 to 150 bitcoins, the international online currency that's supposedly untraceable. That's about $350 on the low end, as prices on the site are said to be inflated.

In the end, however, I couldn't pull the trigger. Call me skittish, but the idea of having drugs mailed to my house was too nerve-wracking.

And then, at a certain giant desert party that will go unnamed, I was offered moon rocks by a wild-eyed man old enough to be my grandfather. He suggested I come into his tent and we take them together.

I thought about it; I'll admit that. I'd been hearing about this wonder drug all summer, after all, and had grown increasingly curious. But I had to pass. Did I mention the guy was old enough to be my grandfather? The creep factor was just too high.

I inquired about moon rocks one more time when I ran into a local dealer at a downtown electronic show. “Can you get me some?” I asked. He shook his head. Later on in the night, he sent me a text: “Definitely let me know if you find any of those moon rocks. I know a lot of people who would be interested.”

Eventually I realize another reason so many people are looking for moon rocks. It's because so much ecstasy is bunk.

Cornwell says that of all the pressed-pill and powder samples DanceSafe tested this year, just over half tested positive for MDMA. That means that the rest contained none at all, meaning there's a lot of fake (and potentially dangerous) stuff around.

How do you know? When your MDMA is cut with crap, you're more likely to experience jaw tightness, headaches and post-usage depression. This is often called the “terrible Tuesdays,” as it can take a full day or more for the bummer effect to set in.

While Cornwell says moon rocks may be safer, since they're less likely to be cut with adulterants, she adds that no drug use is really safe. “Everyone is different, and you never know how you're going to react. Even moon rocks could be mistaken for other things, specifically meth.” (Remember when Uma Thurman mistook heroin for coke and went down hard in Pulp Fiction?) Cornwell recommends test kits, so you can be sure of what you have.

As for me? I look forward to traveling this particular road to bliss. But I'm going to wait until it's not paved with shady deals and overeager old men.

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