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[Contents][Appendix 1]
[Reference 166][Reference 169]

E is for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders

Appendix 1: Reference Section

167 Interview with illicit manufacturers of MDMA, 2/94

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 [189] 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 lungs.

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 better security.

[Contents][Appendix 1]
[Reference 166][Reference 169]
E is for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders (
HTMLized by Lamont Granquist (