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Types of Meth Labs

One reason the use of Meth has infiltrated all parts of the country and all segments of society is the ease of its production.  Unlike most other illicit drugs, Meth can be made in crude labs that fit inside a cooler or mass-produced in huge facilities known as ‘super labs’.  There are a number of methods used in the United States to cook Meth for individual use or for sale.  Each one poses risks for the cooks and anyone who may come in contact with the area – family members, first responders or the general public. 

This method is named because of its WWII German inventors. It is also called the Birch Method from the chemical reaction name (Birch-Bekenser Reduction) or the Dissolving Metal Reduction method.  The Nazi method of production became popular during the mid- to late-1990s.  It combines ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, an active metal  - usually sodium or lithium - and anhydrous ammonia to produce Meth.  This has been the most popular method in South Dakota and other Midwestern states due the readily available liquid fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia) found in farming areas.  The wastes produced by this method are flammable solvents and sludge, corrosive wastes, and the reactive metals lithium and sodium that increase the danger of explosion.

A Red P lab blew during the cooking process
and splashed this man - leaving some burns and
 a number of chemical stains on his face

Another common Meth recipe uses the red phosphorus or Red P method. Red phosphorus, found in safety matches, flares, smoke bombs, and the like, is combined with iodine to make hydriodic acid (HI); that, in turn, is used to reduce the precursor (ephedrine or pseudoephedrine) to Meth.  This method uses other hazardous chemicals such as muratic acid, lye, and a variety of solvents, most of which are very flammable. Wastes left behind from this cook include the flammable solvents and .sludge, corrosive acids and bases, in addition to reactive yellow or white phosphorus. This method also has the potential to produce very toxic phosphine gas if certain solvents are heated with open flames.

Meth Cooks Killed by Phosphine Gas  

This method, named from the precursor used (phenyl-2-propanone) is sometimes called the amalgam or mercuric chloride method.  This recipe for cooking Meth is much less common today than the other two methods, mainly because the precursor is now strictly regulated.  It also produces a less potent form of Meth that contains more contaminates – leading to worse side effects.  Hazards associated with this method are extreme flammability, corrosively, and toxicity. Cooking with this method will leave behind toxic mercury and lead contamination among the other wastes.

Also known as the “Shake and Bake” method, this recipe produces low quantities and low quality Meth and is usually made for personal use. The one-pot method involves mixing pseudoephedrine and other necessary chemicals in one container, often a plastic two-liter soda bottle. This method is every bit as dangerous as the other, better-known methods.  There is a high possibility of explosion or fire from volatile precursor materials combined in one container, and once the Meth is extracted, the cook often disposes of the waste materials by flushing them down the toilet or dumping them along the roadsides or fields.

Example of One-Pot cook
From Louisville Metro Police Dept. website


A HazMat crew member holds up a bottle
of saved urine found in a clan lab

As bizarre or disgusting as it seems, there are people who try to extract Meth from urine – their own or from other users.  These so called ‘pee labs’ are not new; neither are they very effective. The collection process alone takes days to weeks, and because Meth has a half-life of about 12-hours in a person’s body, users would need to collect urine all day to recapture just a fraction of a dose of what they took earlier.  But some users think the urine-collection method is safer than the common cooking techniques for Meth manufacturing.  Law enforcement in South Dakota as well as in other states find jars and bottles of urine in Meth labs and in users’ homes.  While urine-labs may sound less harmful (if more nauseating) than other methods, there are specific dangers associated with them for both the users and those who may raid the lab.  The extraction of the drug from urine adds more risks to the others Meth users face.  As part of the normal biological pattern, anything ingested (including Meth and other drugs) travels through a person’s system to the liver and on to the kidneys.  The kidneys concentrate all the water-soluble materials and waste   products in the urine for excretion.  When a person collects urine to try to extract Meth from it, he also is saving proteins, salts, minerals, caffeine and bacteria.  Some diseases are also concentrated and passed through urine.  There is no exact determination of how much of these products are extracted from urine along with Meth – but whatever is passed on will enter the user’s system in a concentrated form the ‘second time around’.   The process of extracting Meth from urine involves a step of creating an organic solvent that is flammable and toxic.  From that point, the process includes creating a chemical reaction to ‘salt’ out the Meth that can be explosive.
A jar of urine found in a home freezer

Sources include: Drug Enforcement Agency, National Drug Intelligence Center, Forensic Magazine and the Partnership for a Drug Free America


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