Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A more potent meth?

An unusually chemistry-heavy article in The Atlantic about methamphetamine: 
Among the drawbacks of the P2P method is that it produces two kinds of methamphetamine. One is known as d-methamphetamine, which is the stuff that makes you high. The other is l-methamphetamine, which makes the heart race but does little to the brain; it is waste product. Most cooks would likely want to get rid of the l-meth if they knew what it was. But separating the two is tricky, beyond the skills of most clandestine chemists. And without doing so, the resulting drug is inferior to ephedrine-based meth. It makes your heart hammer without offering as potent a high.

Bozenko’s sample contained mostly d-methamphetamine. Someone had removed most of the l-meth. “I’ve taken down labs in several continents,” Bozenko told me years later. No one in the criminal world, as far as he and his colleagues knew, had ever figured out how to separate d-meth from l-meth before.
Would be interesting to know how exactly clandestine chemists are performing this resolution, but it looks like it's via the tartrate salt, which is pretty reasonable. This conclusion about this newer meth was interesting and a bit skepticism-inducing: 
Why is P2P meth producing such pronounced symptoms of mental illness in so many people? No one I spoke with knew for sure. One theory is that much of the meth contains residue of toxic chemicals used in its production, or other contaminants. Even traces of certain chemicals, in a relatively pure drug, might be devastating. The sheer number of users is up, too, and the abundance and low price of P2P meth may enable more continual use among them. That, combined with the drug’s potency today, might accelerate the mental deterioration that ephedrine-based meth can also produce, though usually over a period of months or years, not weeks. Meth and opioids (or other drugs) might also interact in particularly toxic ways. I don’t know of any study comparing the behavior of users—or rats for that matter—on meth made with ephedrine versus meth made with P2P. This now seems a crucial national question.
I'm pretty skeptical that there's a major chemical difference between ephedrine-based meth and P2P-based meth, but maybe I'm wrong. It seems to be that "more meth, cheaper" is probably the horses-not-zebras answer, even as there are other, tempting explanations (contaminants, etc). 


  1. Maybe its "stronger" because if you get more meth cheaper then you can pass on that cost savings to the consumer in the form of higher purity? All the movies I've seen about illicit drugs involves reducing the purity. Still haven't watched breaking bad though (not sure I will).

  2. TV pitch meeting. Ex-pharma process development chemist takes a vacation to Mexico. One thing leads to another. Next thing we see, the half the cartels are running asymmetric syntheses using equipment purchases at auction from chemist's former employer. One episode entirely devoted to sourcing a chiral pool material or a chiral ligand from some shady east Asian CRO that's a front for a Triad crime organization.

  3. I remember running into an ex student of mine when I was a TA and he was asking me about how to make chirally pure stuff. I asked something like "what are you making and why aren't you asking your advisor, post-doc, or other labmates? Did you look at literature to see if it's been made before or something very similar?" He kind of played aloof but I remember him being reasonably intelligent.

    I saw him a few weeks later and asked if he ever figured it out. He eventually said he caught his kitchen and part of his house or apartment on fire trying to make I think GHB via a diazotization method from GABA IIRC. I responded with "ohh so what drug were you trying to make chirally pure because GHB doesn't have chirality?". My mind jumped straight to meth but I think he wanted to make MDMA or one of those designer grey area drugs. I forget.

  4. Phenylacetone-derived meth is racemic and it is typically made by reductive amination with methylamine and amalgamated aluminum foil as a reducing agent. The amalgamation is performed in situ by addition of a soluble Hg(II) salt such as HgCl2 or Hg(NO3)2. It is unlikely that traces of mercury could be completely removed from the product (without performing freebase distillation), and Hg(II) is profoundly neurotoxic (please note that some of the "mat hatter" neurological symptoms of mercury poisoning can be masked by neurotoxicity of meth itself)

    No-one sane will try resolution of meth, and asymmetric catalytic hydrogenation is too fancy for garage chemistry.

    Enantiopure meth is manufactured by garage chemists and cartels in Mexico alike from pseudoephedrine or from ephedrine. Cartels get it in bulk, from China. Pseudoephedrine is made from optically pure 1-phenyl-1-hydroxyacetone, which is obtained by fermentation from glucose and benzaldehyde.

    1. Actually, the Mexican manufacturers have come a long way. From the DEA's 2016 ( and 2020 ( Drug Threat Assessments:

      "In 2009, the [Methamphetamine Profiling Program] first noticed a significant shift away from pseudoephedrine/ephedrine precursors to a P2P-based methamphetamine product."

      "Mexican [transnational criminal organizations] produce methamphetamine using the reductive amination method, which employs the precursor phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) instead of pseudoephedrine. According to the DEA MPP, 99.2 percent of samples analyzed in the first half of 2019 were produced using this method. Mexican TCOs are able to produce methamphetamine that is highly pure and potent, while less expensive to produce, which has contributed to the decline of domestic production."

      The methamphetamine the DEA profiled was, on average, 97.5% enantiopure in the 1st half of 2019.

      The resolution is indeed performed using tartaric acid.

      For more details, see this recently-published summary of the DEA's methamphetamine profiling efforts (


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