Like the drug morphine, which we discussed earlier, taking methamphetamine (pictured above) also causes dopamine to be released in the brain. It also can cause a dependence in a similar manner, requiring more methamphetamine in order to produce the same effect if it’s constantly consumed. However, unlike morphine, methamphetamine does not have medical uses as an analgesic. In addition to this, methamphetamine cannot be manufactured using the sap from an opium poppy. Instead, it uses something that is considerably more accessible to people all around the country.
The first image is a sample of iodine, an essential ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. The second image shows red phosphorus in action, helping to light a match. The match itself does not contain red phosphorus, but the surface it’s being struck against does. Purchasing matchboxes for the sole purpose of extracting red phosphorus is cost inefficient. Cold medications such as Sudafed can contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient, as shown in the third image.
The primary ingredients used in making methamphetamine are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (which can be found in common cold medicines such as Sudafed), iodine crystals, and red phosphorus from matchbooks. Secondary ingredients, used in processing the meth, include petroleum fuel, hydrochloric acid, acetone, methanol, and sodium hydroxide solution. Other chemicals can be used to act as filler, weakening the meth’s effects and adding to the weight of the product of the meth production. These filler chemicals include lithium hydride, ether, Freon (a chlorofluorocarbon or CFC), ammonia, sulfuric and acetic acid, benzyl chloride, lead and mercuric chloride, and even laxatives. When synthesizing these ingredients in a lab, they can be retrieved in sealed containers, but when synthesizing these ingredients at home, more dangerous methods must be used since the license to get these chemicals is nonexistent. As an example, homemade meth relies on unwinding a lithium battery to obtain the lithium filler. This video shows this process.
Depicted here is a meth lab with stations for crushing ephedrine tablets, combining iodine crystals and red phosphorus, adding sodium hydroxide and a CFC, and bubbling gaseous hydrogen chloride through liquid meth.
Methamphetamine produced in superlabs makes up 80% of the supply of meth in the United States, with these superlabs being operated by drug cartels. The production of meth in a superlab is much more involved than the production of meth at home. First, the ephedrine tablets are ground into a powder. Then, this powder is placed in the methanol, allowing the actual ephedrine to separate from the filler material in the ephedrine tablets. The filler material in the tablets (which does not get dissolved in the methanol) is then filtered out, and the remaining solution is boiled to leave pure ephedrine. The iodine crystals are reacted with the red phosphorus in water to make hydroiodic acid, and the pure ephedrine is added to the heated hydroiodic acid to produce an acidic solution of methamphetamine and red phosphorus that isn’t dissolved. The remnants of the red phosphorus are filtered by passing the whole solution through a porous filter, leaving just the acidic solution of methamphetamine. A solution of sodium hydroxide is added to this solution to make it more neutral. A chlorofluorocarbon is added to the resultant solution to precipitate out the methamphetamine in liquid form, which is denser than water. Thus, the methamphetamine can be collected by extracting it from the bottom of the container it’s in. Gaseous hydrogen chloride is bubbled through the liquid methamphetamine to turn it into a wet salt. Once this salt is dried by filtering it from the water, it is able to be consumed. Like it was mentioned before, however, fillers are added to this meth product to lessen its effects and make it appear that more is produced.
Risks of Meth Production
Interestingly enough, the ingredients used to make methamphetamine can be extremely harmful to ingest by themselves. When taken in high doses, iodine can damage the thyroid, which releases hormones into the body. Sodium hydroxide can be used to loosen up the clogs in drains, and it can even be used to dissolve road kill as part of highway cleanup. Hydrogen chloride, is also corrosive and if a screw-up occurs when bubbling it through the liquid meth, it can result in bodily harm. The ether used as filler is flammable and can cause drowsiness or unconsciousness if its fumes are inhaled, so the final processing of the methamphetamine can be hazardous to one’s health if he or she is not careful. This risk is compounded by the fact that large amounts of chemicals are used to produce meager amounts of consumable methamphetamine (like 4 boxes of matches are used to get enough red phosphorus to make 2 to 3 grams of meth).
Do-it-Yourself Method of Meth Production
Here is an image of the equipment needed to produce methamphetamine via the shake-and-bake method. The green, plastic bottle located towards the middle is what contains the reaction of the different ingredients.
The previous method of meth production occurs in labs where safety precautions may be in place, but there are methods to produce methamphetamine at home using ingredients that are just as dangerous. A popular method to produce meth at home is known as the shake-and-bake method. The apparatus used for this method is a sealed bottle that one must add the ingredients to and shake. These ingredients include ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, lithium, ammonium nitrate, sodium hydroxide, water, and petroleum fuel. The basic method is to throw them all into a bottle, cap it, and swirl it around. The reactions that occur, however, generate pressure that must be first kept inside the bottle to produce enough yield. When the lithium starts shriveling and changing color, some pressure must be released because the bottle will explode otherwise, scattering harmful chemicals everywhere. Since the producer of the meth is in contact with the bottle as the reactions are occurring, this can cause severe bodily harm. In addition to this, once a methamphetamine precipitate forms, gaseous hydrogen chloride must be added to it before it can be consumed. It should go without saying that this also puts the methmaker in danger.
Cooking meth is a dangerous process that can cause harm to the producer if he or she is careless about the different chemicals that are being handled. Despite all the harmful ingredients that go into the process of making methamphetamine, the final product is able to be consumed without experiencing much damage to the digestive system. This is, in part, because of its chemical structure, which we will cover in the next blog post.