Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, synthetic, stimulant drug that activates the pleasure centers in your brain. There are many street names given to methamphetamine – meth, ice, crystal, glass, speed, chalk, croak, biker’s coffee, fire, stove top, tweek, tweak or tina…just to name a few. Amphetamine, which is the parent drug of meth, has been used legally as nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. However, the effects of meth on those who use it are much more potent, longer lasting and more harmful to the central nervous system than amphetamine. It can come in many forms including crystal, powder and tablet. The most common form used by recreational users is the crystal. Due to its high nature of abuse, it is considered as a Class A drug and is available only through prescriptions which are prescribed in doses which are less than those that are used for abuse.

What is a Clandestine Meth Lab?

The word Clandestine means secret and refers to labs where illegal drugs are manufactured. Clandestine labs can produce a variety of drugs such as methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), and Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, more commonly known as the date rape drug. See the Appendix B for more listings of drugs that are manufactured during the cooking process. DEA has a National Clandestine Laboratory Register website which lists by state the property addresses that have been seized by law enforcement for illegal manufacturing of drug labs. Unfortunately, this website is not actively updated. Just because a property is not listed on the website, does not mean it’s not meth contaminated property. Many meth contaminated properties never make it to the DEA’s website.

Brief History of Methamphetamine

Amphetamines were first made in 1887 Germany, although nothing was done with the drug at the time. Amphetamines were widely used during World War II to keep the fighting men awake. After World War II, intravenous methamphetamine abuse in Japan reached epidemic proportions immediately, when supplies stored for military use became available to the public. Around the 1950’s in the United States, both dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methamphetamine (Methedrine) were manufactured as legal tablets, which became readily available. They were used by truck drivers, house wives (for diet aid), athletes and college students. Abuse soon became evident after the wide spread use of amphetamines. In the 1960s there was a drastic change to injectable methamphetamine until 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act severely restricted the legal production of injectable methamphetamine, causing the use to greatly decrease. While it has been over a hundred years since amphetamines were first manufactured, the use and abuse has not stopped.

What is Used to Make Meth?

Meth can be made or “cooked,” from over-the-counter medications and a variety of common household items such as paint thinner, acetone, ammonia, freon, ether, anhydrous ammonia, iodine crystals, red phosphorus, drain cleaner, battery acid and lithium. Labs are manufactured and meth is cooked in homes, motel rooms, attics, storage sheds, automobiles, parks – virtually anywhere imaginable. If you own rental property and make inspections from time to time, here are some of the signs to look for that could point to a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory.

  • A large number of cans of camp fuel, paint thinner, acetone, starter fluid.
  • Lye and drain cleaners containing Sulfuric Acid or bottles containing Muriatic Acid.
  • Large amounts of lithium batteries.
  • Propane tanks with fittings that have turned blue.
  • Soft silver or gray metallic ribbon (in chunk form) stored in oil or Kerosene.
  • Strong smell of urine, or unusual chemical smells like ether, ammonia or acetone.
  • A large amount of cold tablet containers of Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine.
  • Jars containing clear liquid with a white or red colored solid on the bottom.
  • Jars containing dark, shiny, metallic, purple crystals (Iodine).
  • Jars containing a fine dark red or purple powder (red phosphorus).
  • Coffee filters containing a white pasty substance, shiny white crystals or red sludge.
  • Bottles of Sulfuric, Muriatic or Hydrochloric Acid.
  • Bottles or jars with rubber tubing attached.
  • Glass cookware or frying pans containing a powdery residue.

Once the manufacturing of meth is completed there are four methods to intake the drug:

  1. Meth tablet (Oral)
  2. Smoke meth
  3. Snorting meth
  4. Injecting meth

Tablet Meth (Oral)

Tablets are only provided under doctor supervision for use with ADHA or to be used for weight loss. Effects of the drug taken orally by tablet are felt by the user in around 15 – 20 minutes. Pills are often ingested orally and they can also be crushed into powder and smoked. Methamphetamine tablets/pills which are generally a composite of methamphetamine and caffeine are often referred to by their Thai name, y aba “crazy medicine”.

Smoking Meth

This is a photograph of an actual “Meth Pipe” found by one of my technicians on a decontamination project. The real name is
“eucalyptus inhaler” because eucalyptus steam inhalation is recommended by some alternative practitioners for relieving nasal and sinus congestion, usually colds and flu. Eucalyptus oil is an essential oil which can be found in many health food stores and online and used in the eucalyptus inhaler to relieve their nasal symptoms. Of the four common ways to intake methamphetamine, smoking crystal meth is the most popular and common way of in-take for meth users. Meth is placed into the pipe, then heat is added, usually with a cigarette lighter causing the meth to vaporize so it can be drawn into the lungs. Meth requires a temperature that causes the compound to vaporize. These pipes are also used for crack cocaine as well. While these meth pipes can be purchased at adult entertainment stores, meth users make meth pipes out of a variety of items; such as halogen light bulbs and aluminum foil. Effects of the drug are felt by the user in around 15-20 seconds of administration.

Snorting Meth

Snorting meth, also called cristy, zip, go-fast, chalk, speed or shabu is not always used because it provides different experiences for the user than through the other methods. Effects of the drug are felt by users in around 10 seconds. After effects are exhibited 6 -8 hours consisting of an initial rush or “high” then a condition of extreme anxiety, which may lead to violent or uncontrolled behavior.

Injecting Meth

The least common used method for taking meth is by injection. It is also known as slamming, but carries quite serious risks. Injecting meth is used mostly by advanced meth users as the effects are faster to overwhelm the body and less of the drug is wasted. Effects of the drug are felt by users in around 10 seconds. Injection users may use doses ranging from 125 mg to over a gram, using a small needle. While this dosage may be fatal to non-addicts, addicted meth users quickly develop tolerance to the drug. Sharing of needles to inject the drug can also transmit HIV or hepatitis, as well.

Effects of Meth on Users

  1. Meth effects on the brain – meth destroys the brain cells changing the structure of the brain.
  2. Other physical effects – lungs, heart, blood pressure, liver, kidneys, eyes, mouth, skin, muscles, causes strokes and heart attacks.
  3. Psychological dangers – aggressive behavior, insomnia, paranoia, desperation, panic attacks, obsessive behavior, insomnia, suicidal thoughts.
  4. Short term effects – decreased appetite, or irregular heart rate, excessive sweating, dilated pupils, headache, diarrhea, hallucinations, shortness of breath.
  5. Long term effects – addiction, damage to brain cells, extreme weight loss, damage to blood vessels, dental problems, skin abscesses, weakening of the immune system, memory loss and seizures.

Meth Lab Explosions

Meth labs are hazardous and due to the poisonous and explosive nature of chemicals used in cooking the drug methamphetamine, meth labs are considered to be a danger to both the user involved in the lab and the occupant living in the home. Many times meth labs explode during the “cooking” process, resulting in a fire, which is how they are first discovered.

Are There Any Health Risks?

While we know there are health risks involved to the user of methamphetamine drug labs, the real question and concern is, are there real health risks to innocent third party occupants of meth contaminated homes? There are varied opinions and a variety of articles written about the health risks from exposure to meth. Although, research is still evolving, the National Jewish Medical and Research Center performed a study that was designed to identify and measure potential chemical exposures associated with the investigation of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories. The study made the following conclusions:

  1. Exposures to levels of hydrogen chloride that exceed current occupational levels are likely.
  2. Most items and individuals in the vicinity of the cooking process will be contaminated with methamphetamine.
  3. Chemicals from the cook will have spread not only in the immediate area, but throughout the building as well.
  4. All children within that building are likely to have been exposed to methamphetamine and other chemicals and should be considered as exposed and contaminated.

The National Jewish Medical and Research Center also performed “A 24-Hour Study to Investigate Chemical Exposures Associated with Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratories” in August, 2005.

The study was designed to determine the primary chemical exposures associated with clandestine methamphetamine laboratories and study the migration and persistence of the chemicals over a 24-hour period. In addition, this study looked at various activities, such as walking and vacuuming in the methamphetamine lab to determine exposures that may result from re-suspension of chemicals from contaminated surfaces. Based on their findings, the study made the following conclusions:
Detectable airborne concentrations of hydrochloric acid, iodine and methamphetamine will remain within a structure for at least 24 hours.

  • Normal household activities, such as walking and vacuuming can re-suspend hydrochloric acid, iodine and methamphetamine from contaminated surfaces.
  • Airborne methamphetamine exposures on the day after a methamphetamine cook are similar to those seen in remote areas of a house during a cook.
  • he majority of airborne methamphetamines are present as very small particles (<1 um) or as a vapor. This finding indicates that methamphetamine during a methamphetamine cook or up to 24 hours after a methamphetamine cook penetrates deep into the lungs to the gas exchange region where it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.

Effects of Meth on Occupants

Symptoms discovered by the study conducted by The National Jewish Medical Research Center, reported symptoms from meth labs were:

  • Asthma,
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis,
  • Upper Respiratory Complaints

The study concluded that it is unknown whether these symptoms were from meth, or the chemicals used in cooking meth. In either case, the property needs to be decontaminated so it is safe for human habitation and in particular for small children. As multiple news articles have listed health issues of people who have unknowing purchased a home only to find it has been a meth lab property. The reported effects were:

  • Kidney ailments
  • Unexplained rashes
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Upper Respiratory Distress

For more information about health effects, studies and statistics, particularly involving children, you can also check out the very informative book, “The Meth Solution.”