Illicit drugs are, as their classification suggests, illegal. Most illicit substances were at one point produced for legitimate purposes, but are now either strictly controlled or no longer available. The manufacture of illicit substances for sale on an underworld market takes place at clandestine laboratories. Labs engaged in the manufacture of illicit drugs such as marihuana, MDMA (ecstasy), or Methamphetamine are by design clandestine, this is done in fear of police investigations leading to their discovery and prosecution under the law. Operators of clan labs take great care in concealing their activities, and by doing so exhibit a number of behaviours or indicators that otherwise appear innocuous. Furthermore, because of the illegal nature of the manufacturing process there are no controls that account for health and safety of the operators, or any unsuspecting persons who reside or otherwise find themselves in the vicinity of the clan lab.

The manufacture of Methamphetamine likely poses the greatest threat to safety for a variety of reasons including exposure to toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process, the hazardous waste by-product, fires, explosions, and residual toxicity left behind in the place where manufacturing took place. There are also a number of security threats posed by clan labs, such as persons looking to break into clandestine labs to steal the drugs and/or profits from the sale of the drugs, and any security measure put into place by the operators of the labs. The security measures may be in the form of booby traps concealed on the perimeter or inside the clandestine lab, which may cause harm to anyone unfamiliar with their location and operation including building staff, utilities workers, emergency responders, or any other unsuspecting person who may find themselves nearby.

Some of the indicators to look for in a clandestine laboratory include:

  • Smell of chemicals or other unusual odours
  • Unusually large amounts of waste being disposed of through regular garbage collection, or disposal of apparent waste through methods other than regular garbage collection
  • Window coverings drawn closed at all times, or windows being opened at times to vent unusual odours.
  • Occupants arriving and leaving at late hours of the night, apparently to avoid contact with other residents, or a high volume of traffic in and out at all hours of the day and night
  • Unusual concerns for security exhibited by occupants. Surveillance equipment may be installed outside windows or doors.
  • Occupants pay rent in cash, and may pay for a number of rental payment periods in advance
  • Occupants unwilling to entertain inspections of the premises by building staff, and may change locks in order to prevent entry in emergent situations
  • Upon inspection staff notice unusual equipment including large plastic buckets, plastic or metal drums, containers with apparent chemicals, chemistry equipment such as glass vessels, burners, stands, hoses, batteries, acetone, large amounts of matches and empty blister packs of cold medication (pseudoephedrine). In this case it is recommended to immediately evacuate the unit and call emergency responders.

Amphetamine was first discovered in 1887, and it continues to be used today to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At the height of its popularity Amphetamine was sold over the counter and promoted as an aid to wakefulness and weight loss. Its use became strictly controlled following increased rates of addiction and a host of negative side effects, which led to a healthcare crisis. Amphetamine experienced a resurgence on the illicit drug market and became popular as “biker speed” when it was manufactured in clandestine laboratories operated by a number of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The clandestine manufacture of Amphetamine was possible due to the availability of phenyl-2-propanone (P2P), found in a common pool cleaning chemical. P2P eventually became a controlled substance and was scheduled as a pre-cursor, and therefore less readily available.

The illicit drug market did not take long to discover a new method of manufacturing speed with the use of ephedrine. The ephedrine derived speed was actually Methamphetamine, a drug that was far superior in potency and negative side effects to Amphetamine. Both Amphetamine and Methamphetamine are central nervous system stimulants, but in addition Methamphetamine is a neurotoxin – a substance that is destructive to nerve tissue. The superior potency of Methamphetamine also makes it highly addictive, far worse than Amphetamine.

There are many different methods or recipes used in the manufacture in Methamphetamine, but they all require the use of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Some of the common chemicals used in the manufacture of Methamphetamine include:

  • Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (cold medication)
  • Hydriodic Acid
  • Hydrocholric Acid
  • Hypophosphrous Acid
  • Iodine
  • Red Phosphorous
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone
  • Sodium Hydroxide
  • Sulfuric Acid
  • Acetone
  • Toluene

Any of the above may be hazardous and may be found inside a clandestine laboratory used to manufacture Methamphetamine. If upon inspection of a premises chemicals and/or chemical processes are found to be in operation it is recommended that the premises be evacuated immediately and emergency responders called. Do not attempt to turn off any chemical process in operation, as the inappropriate shut down of a process may be dangerous.