Drug Policy

'Everybody's Making Their Own Dope'

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A.P. reports that legal restrictions on sales of cold and allergy remedies containing pseudoephedrine, aimed at suppressing methamphetamine production, have helped popularize the "shake and bake" method of making meth, which is less complicated and requires fewer pills:

The new formula does away with the clutter of typical meth labs, and it can turn the back seat of a car or a bathroom stall into a makeshift drug factory. Some addicts have even made the drug while driving.

The pills are crushed, combined with some common household chemicals and then shaken in the soda bottle. No flame is required….

"It simplified the process so much that everybody's making their own dope," said Kevin Williams, sheriff of Marion County, Ala.

The downside:

"If there is any oxygen at all in the bottle, it has a propensity to make a giant fireball," said Sgt. Jason Clark of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. "You're not dealing with rocket scientists here anyway. If they get unlucky at all, it can have a very devastating reaction."

One little mistake, such as unscrewing the bottle cap too fast, can result in a huge blast, and police in Alabama, Oklahoma and other states have linked dozens of flash fires this year—some of them fatal—to meth manufacturing.

"Every meth recipe is dangerous, but in this one, if you don't shake it just right, you can build up too much pressure, and the container can pop," Woodward said.

When fire broke out in older labs, "it was usually on a stove in a back room or garage and people would just run, but when these things pop, you see more extreme burns because they are holding it. There are more fires and more burns because of the close proximity, whether it's on a couch or driving down the road."

After the chemical reaction, what's left is a crystalline powder that users smoke, snort or inject. They often discard the bottle, which now contains a poisonous brown and white sludge. Dozens of reports describe toxic bottles strewn along highways and rural roads in states with the worst meth problems.

Limiting retail sales of pseudoephedrine has inconvenienced cold and allergy sufferers, forcing them to buy the drug in smaller quantities, request it from the pharmacist instead of taking it off a shelf, and sign a log so police can (theoretically) keep track of who is buying the pills. But there's little evidence that the restrictions have reduced meth consumption, since large-scale Mexican traffickers picked up the slack from mom-and-pop labs. The one arguable benefit from this shift was that it reduced the hazards from local production. So much for that.

"You have to understand going in that drugs are an evolutionary process," a Mississippi legislator tells A.P. "The day after we pass a law, they are going to look for ways to circumvent that." The solution: more laws, of course. Since the current restrictions haven't worked, no doubt we will soon see legislation making pseudoephedrine—a cheap, safe, and highly effective decongestant—available only by prescription or entirely illegal. 

As I noted several years ago, you don't need pseudoephedrine to make meth. Other Reason coverage of the pseudoephedrine crackdown here. A purported recipe for one version of shake-and-bake meth (which I do not vouch for and do not recommend you try) here.

[Thanks to BakedPenguin for the tip.]

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  1. One little mistake, such as unscrewing the bottle cap too fast, can result in a huge blast, and police in Alabama, Oklahoma and other states have linked dozens of flash fires this year-some of them fatal-to meth manufacturing.

    Think of it as evolution in action.

  2. I wonder how many people would bother with meth, considering just how awful and destructive it is, if other drugs were legalized? I am all for legalization, with an asterix on meth. That shit needs to go away. It not only harms the user, but can hurt innocent people far more than other drugs.

  3. I have a hard enough time figuring out how early man first decided to throw game on a fire; I will never understand how hillbillies manage to master MacGyver chemistry.

  4. This is just awesome. For any thinking person, the best book about meth bar none is “No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth” by Frank Owen.

    The chronology of prohibition-driven unintended consequences revealed in the book about this drug is tragically comical.

    Back in the day, biker gangs made it using a precursor chemical called “P2P” in relatively sophisticated labs. The DEA “cracked down” on P2P and saw meth use decline, for six months. By the end of the first year, some chemist had figured out you could cook the stuff much easier, and make a much better drug, using ephedrine.

    After a few years of this, ephedrine essentially gets banned with another Federal law. So, the cooks hit on pseudoephedrine (Dayquil, Sudafed) and its a meth-party again. The DEA responds with bulk pseudoephedrine controls, so mass-purchases of OTC cold medications ensues. The DEA cracks down on that, then the Mexican cartels take over. The Mexicans crack down on pseudoephedrine imports themselves, and of all of a sudden imports of the chemical into places like Argentina triples. Endless stupid game.

    So now people have figured out how to get the most meth possible, as easy as possible, from as little precursor chemical as possible. Oh, and you can pseudoephedrine in a process not that different than homebrewing beer it turns out anyways.

    Over the past thirty years, the DEA’s attempts at controlling methamphetamine via precursor chemicals have spurred market-drive innovation in chemistry that have turned meth from a niche drug for biker outlaws into a mass-producible chemical that is now a multi-billion dollar business for Mexican cartels. Adjusted for inflation, meth has never been cheaper or “better” or more available.

    I’ve got an idea to help Americans afford prescription drugs: Ban them all. Let the black market take over and like every other illegal drug, they will become cheaper and more available to the nation’s uninsured poor. Seems to be a pattern here…

  5. The downside:

    “If there is any oxygen at all in the bottle, it has a propensity to make a giant fireball,”

    Still waiting to hear what the downside is.

    It not only harms the user, but can hurt innocent people far more than other drugs.

    No drug harms people who don’t use it. People who use meth may harm people who don’t use it, but that is entirely different.

  6. [Thanks to BakedPenguin for the tip.]

    Son, I’m beginning to doubt your story that you named yourself after an Inuit delicacy.

  7. Chad, I think very few if any at all would. I’ve sampled it and can confidently say that the high from it sucks something fierce. This is based on pure speculation as I haven’t done much research into the matter, but I’ve always suspected that drugs like meth, crack and the like came about primarily because of increasingly heavier restrictions on purer, safer and ultimately better drugs. Higher potency in a smaller quantity means that it is easier to move, dispose of if need be, etc.

    1. I agree with cleaner, drugs, however, what goes up must come down, regardless of how pure…Its all about brain chems. We are already evolving to a higher level, but that takes thousands of years of evolution, in order to always feel good, we would have to be non-human right?–we chose this life for the realness of it, and this includes the suffering, because we need to feel bad in order to feel good, There has to be a ground reference to compare the gravitys of each perspective we experience.

  8. If there is any oxygen at all in the bottle, it has a propensity to make a giant fireball.

    Cue Youtube craze in three…two…one.

  9. I don’t call them “meth addicts”. I call them future LP voters. Let the outreach begin!

  10. “You have to understand going in that drugs are an evolutionary process”

    I’d suggest providing free meth for anyone stupid enough to use it. Then let them vie for a Darwin Award at specially designed “Meth Parks” with many cool but dangerous things to do.

  11. I wonder how many people would bother with meth, considering just how awful and destructive it is, if other drugs were legalized? I am all for legalization, with an asterix on meth. That shit needs to go away. It not only harms the user, but can hurt innocent people far more than other drugs.

    Everyone has their pet drug that they think everyone else should not be allowed to do. How do you structure a system that allows for only your idea of the “bad” drugs to be regulated?

    If you are favor of restricting any drugs you’re part of the problem.

  12. Does this mean that Mentos and Diet Coke, when properly combined, makes an illegal drug? Good thing I don’t consume either product, I guess, because the drug war has already made Sudafed harder to get.

  13. I did meth one night. Out of a lightbulb and I hotrailed a few lines.

    It’s a speedy, but groggy (weird shit) high in which time has ABSOLUTELY NO meaning.

    At least when I see meth-adled folk on Cops I can relate.

  14. “Every meth recipe is dangerous, but in this one, if you don’t shake it just right, you can build up too much pressure, and the container can pop,” Woodward said.

    but when these things pop, you see more extreme burns because they are holding it. There are more fires and more burns because of the close proximity, whether it’s on a couch or driving down the road.”

    I smell bullshit here. It sounds like this may be a pressure related explosion and not a combustible one. My bet is that the officer is stupid or is lying to exaggerate the dangers.

  15. I ran a call on a meth maker who passed out stealing anhydrous ammonia. He fell face first under the spigot he had broken to steal it. Tubing a semiconscious guy with a melted face is not easy.

    If the method is anything like other methods most of the crap used is flammable and the more it is diluted, heated, or mixed the more flammable it gets. I’ve talked to rural firefighters here and they won’t enter a structure fire if they even remotely think it’s a meth lab. The risk of an explosion is too great. I know ammonia becomes flammable around 15 to 25 percent mixed w/ air.

  16. “If the method is anything like other methods most of the crap used is flammable and the more it is diluted, heated, or mixed the more flammable it gets. I’ve talked to rural firefighters here and they won’t enter a structure fire if they even remotely think it’s a meth lab. The risk of an explosion is too great. I know ammonia becomes flammable around 15 to 25 percent mixed w/ air.”

    Ammonia is a critical ingredient in many explosives for a reason. Ditto for nitrogen compounds. “Pressure related” explosion is technically accurate, when something becomes a runaway exothermic reaction (i.e. combustion or detonation) in a closed container, the pressure indeed rises…lol.

  17. We need to see this on MythBusters. The same episode where Keri and Grant get it on and release all the tension that’s been building up.

  18. “I’ve got an idea to help Americans afford prescription drugs: Ban them all. Let the black market take over and like every other illegal drug, they will become cheaper and more available to the nation’s uninsured poor. Seems to be a pattern here…”

    It’s much cheaper to get a new drug to market when a bunch of idiots decide to play human guinea pig for you.

    If Big Pharma had that option, they could probably drop drug prices too. Not that they would, with a two-decade monopoly and all. But it would definitely boost the margins.


  19. Everyone has their pet drug that they think everyone else should not be allowed to do.

    Can’t think of a one.There are plenty of drugs I don’t think anyone should use though.

  20. BakedPenguin’s Dad | August 25, 2009, 5:17pm | #
    Son, I’m beginning to doubt your story that you named yourself after an Inuit delicacy.

    Inuit, northern polar region
    Penguins, southern hemisphere.

    Pop’s a tad slow, eh?

  21. “If there is any oxygen at all in the bottle, it has a propensity to make a giant fireball,” said Sgt. Jason Clark of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control. “You’re not dealing with rocket scientists here anyway. . . .”

    Actually it sounds like you kind of are dealing with rocket scientists.

  22. wow! now some dumpass kid is going to read this crap and start mixing moms cleaning supplies and be either killed or scarred for life way to go idiots this is what the problem is to much information on the damn tv and internet to teach our kids how to ruin thier lives mom and dad gotta work now days theres noone home to baby sitt a your telling them how to do it god help us we are killing mankind as we know it

  23. Done a lot of meth. It makes you happy, talkative and gives you energy. Really not all that intoxicating (when compared with pot or alcohol). What I mean is you are not really out of control, like all those other drugs. If you tried it, you’d find it felt pretty darn good and then say to yourself “this is what all the fuss is about???”

    The biggest problem is that you have trouble sleeping. Trying not sleeping with or without drugs and you are in for trouble.

    With another drug that would bring you down nice and easy, and let you sleep, a lot of the behavioral problems I would imagine would go away.

    Isn’t that how the air force does it: “go” and “no go” pills?

  24. Isn’t that how the air force does it: “go” and “no go” pills?

    They are using amphetamines which are much less harmful to the body than meth. Want to put an end to the meth problem? Re-legalize amhetamines. Hell, they were giving them to housewives for “diet pills” in the 60s.

    If folks needed a “pepper-upper pill” they should be able to buy it from a reputable seller, not some bozo with some crank.

    … Hobbit

  25. I met a DEA agent who called the pseudoephedrine crackdown the “Mexican Drug Lab Full Employment Act.”

  26. Inuit, northern polar region
    Penguins, southern hemisphere.

    Pop’s a tad slow, eh?

    That’s why it’s a delicacy. Duh.

    [hides shame, bangs BakedPenguin’s mom again]

  27. No drug harms people who don’t use it. People who use meth may harm people who don’t use it, but that is entirely different.

    If you are favor of restricting any drugs you’re part of the problem.

    A former coworker’s house burned down, and his roommate died in her room during said fire because the tenants in the basement were cooking meth. I’m not sure how ‘entirely different’ that kind of thing is.
    I’m not for restricting any drugs, but meth is devasting. It can, in fact, cause a lot of harm to innocent people. As I said, perhaps legalization of less lethal ‘drugs’ would limit that.

  28. Inuit, northern polar region
    Penguins, southern hemisphere.

    Pop’s a tad slow, eh?

    Depends if you count Auks as penguins or not.

  29. If you haven’t seen “Breaking Bad,” be aware that this most excellent series has a pivotal episode, in which the two meth-manufacturing main characters use one’s excellent scientific knowledge to circumvent poor availability of “pseudo-“. Their solution is also to adopt a process that uses a different precursor. But they certainly don’t end up with anything as simple as “shake and bake.” It’s entertaining, nevertheless.

  30. The Bearded Hobbit,

    The difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine is relatively minor, like the difference between heroin and morphine. They bond the same receptors and should produce the same effects at equivalent doses; methylation of the amine group makes it more potent on a molecule by molecule basis, but doesn’t fundamentally change what it does.

    The recommended doses for wakefullness promption or appetite supression are also lower than a recreational dose.

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