Three people who were psychedelic explorers themselves and enthusiastic
about MDMA in particular decided to try to manufacture some. They spent
about 3 years planning - reading up syntheses; finding equipment and buying
materials. None had any previous laboratory experience apart from school
chemistry, nor had they any connections with others making illicit drugs.
Obtaining equipment without arousing suspicion was difficult. They found
that laboratory suppliers would not sell anything more complex than a
thermometer for cash over the counter, and asked them to open an account.
This was tricky, as it required bank and trade references which would
identify them, and they also found banks unwilling to open a new business
account without details of who they were and the precise nature of their
intended business. They were well aware that suppliers of equipment and
precursors are asked to inform the police of any suspicious purchases.
They then looked for existing companies who had accounts with suppliers,
and tried to make contacts so that orders could be placed and passed on to
them. Approaching these people was risky in itself in case any should
inform the police or blackmail them, and there was always the risk that
suppliers would notify the police that these customers were ordering
precursors for the first time. In addition, these 'middle men' would double
the price. However, they found some pieces of equipment in theatre prop
shops and even car boot sales. As syntheses were based on laboratory rather
than production techniques, nearly all the equipment was glassware. This
meant there were a lot of breakages which sometimes held up production for
ages while replacements were sought.
Methods of manufacture were worked out from studying everything they could
get hold of including chemistry textbooks; PIHKAL by Alexander Shulgin
[reference 2]; Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture  and some
patents from the Patent Office. They say that none of these were complete
on their own and that every new description added valuable new information.
Precursor materials were just as hard to get. Even solvents were not
available without question, and some ingredients required a poisons
license. In the end, they had to make many of the precursors themselves.
Key precursors, such as safrole, had to be bought from black market sources
at very high prices. Indian suppliers were the most likely to accept cash
and ask no questions. In the end they managed to obtain or make everything
they needed within Britain. In all they spent some #4,000.
Having obtained the equipment required, they looked for a suitable site to
set up their factory. It had to have water, gas supply and ventilation
besides being somewhere discreet where neighbours would not notice them
bringing in equipment and materials, nor be alarmed by odd smells and
sounds. Eventually they set up in a basement flat, with the plan to get the
batch over and done with as quickly as possible.
At this stage it was all theory, so the first thing to do was to try out
the various syntheses. This turned out to be much harder than expected -
even following instructions to the letter, some reactions simply did not
happen while others were so violent they that broke the apparatus. Recipes,
including Shulgin's, appeared to have small but vital steps missing. It was
only by reading several different instructions that they managed to
overcome all problems, and they found that nearly every extra description
of a synthesis contained more clues.
Over a period of two months continuous work they made two small trial
batches to test the method before starting production. As enthusiasts
rather than just in it for the money, they decided to go for the best
quality by recrystallizing the end product to produce pure, white crystals.
The process to manufacture one kilo of MDMA took about 2 weeks continuous
work for three people because of the lack of ideal equipment - some
processes could only be done in 50 gram batches and they had no fume
cupboard. They used about 75 litres of solvents which they were unable to
recondense, so all this was boiled off producing vast amounts of vapour.
The fumes tended to be heavier than air and would fill up the basement, as
they only had one small extractor fan - even that was a cause of worry as
the fumes could be smelled miles away. At many points in the production
there were toxic fumes, some highly poisonous, and many spillages. They
worked in terrible conditions leaving them coughing and ill due to inhaling
the fumes which caused giddiness and made their eyes smart, while working
long hours and getting tired meant that accidents were frequent. They were
worried about explosions which could be sparked off by motors such as on
their vacuum pump. Sometimes they had to evacuate the basement and the
fumes could be seen drifting out of windows. Once some ether exploded, and
they rushed out into the garden where they tried to wash off poisonous
chemicals with a hose pipe. They survived but one believes he damaged his
Selling was far more difficult than they expected. They wanted to find a
single dealer to take all their product so as to avoid too many people
knowing what they were doing, but only knew small time dealers. Eventually
they found dealers who would buy by the ounce, but they were not prepared
to pay a premium for their extra good quality product over the usual trade
price of #40 per gram. They were afraid that dealers who could afford to
buy in kilos would be connected to criminal sources, and that may mean
being swindled or threatened with guns.
Although they sold the kilo without being caught, it was much harder than
anticipated and involved far higher risks, with a worryingly large number
of people into their secret. Although one of them found the danger
exhilarating, it was sheer hell for the other and overall they concluded
that it was not worthwhile.
They learned that they could overcome virtually any problem and produce a
pure product, but such small scale production is not worthwhile. They
reckon the risks would actually be lower on a larger scale because they
would be able to pay someone else to obtain the equipment and materials and
so reduce the number of people involved, also they would be able to pay for
safer premises and better equipment. And they would be able to afford