Methamphetamine (or “meth”) is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It’s available as a powder, a pill, or a rock-like substance called crystal meth.
Since the drug is illegal, people cook it in secret locations called methamphetamine laboratories (or “meth labs”). They use a variety of ingredients, including common household items and toxic chemicals.
You can help protect your community by learning to identify meth ingredients and labs.
Meth production starts with either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Both of these ingredients are decongestants that appear in over-the-counter cold medications and weight loss products. Meth makers combine them with various other substances, including:
- acetone (found in nail polish remover and paint thinner)
- anhydrous ammonia (found in fertilizer)
- cat litter
- hydrochloric acid (found in fertilizer and dyes)
- iodine crystals or flakes
- isopropyl alcohol (found in rubbing alcohol and various cleaning products)
- lithium (found in battery acid)
- methanol (found in paints, varnishes, and adhesives)
- MSM (a nutritional supplement)
- red phosphorus (found in matches or road flares)
- rock salt
- sodium hydroxide (also called lye)
- sodium metal (found in table salt and baking soda)
- sulfuric acid (found in drain cleaner)
- toluene (found in brake cleaner)
- trichloroethane (found in gun cleaner)
Meth labs exist in various structures, including houses, apartments, garages, and vehicles. Some are even outdoors.
No matter its location, a meth lab will contain many of the ingredients listed above. You may see the ingredients (or the products they’re found in) scattered around the lab or in the trash. You might also notice that the owners of the meth lab produce much more trash than most households.
Other signs of a meth lab include:
The most common equipment for cooking meth includes:
- aluminum foil
- coffee filters (which are often stained red)
- frying pans
- gas or propane tanks (which often have blue-stained fittings)
- measuring cups
- paper towels
- plastic bottles (which may have tubes sticking out of them)
- plastic containers
- plastic or rubber hoses
- rubber gloves
- rubber tubing
- turkey basters
These items may contain white, powdery residue (from the powder form of meth).
Also, while most meth makers use a variety of the items listed above, some only use plastic bottles. That’s because they use the “one-pot” method (also called the “shake and bake” method).
This method involves mixing the ingredients in a two-liter plastic bottle (such as a soda bottle) and shaking it. It poses a high risk of explosions.
Most meth labs emit strong chemical odors. Many people claim they smell like gasoline, vinegar, cat urine, rotten eggs, or hospitals.
To reduce toxic fumes from meth ingredients, a meth lab owner may have numerous fans or furnace blowers. In addition, they might always keep their windows open, even on cold days.
Meth lab owners often fail to take care of their lawns. Some even dump corrosive, toxic waste on the grass, which can quickly burn or kill it.
Excessive Security Measures
To avoid detection by law enforcement, meth makers may set up various security measures, such as:
- video cameras
- baby monitors
- guard dogs
- signs that read “Keep Out,” “No Trespassing,” or “Beware of Dog”
- large trees or shrubs
People who own meth labs tend to exhibit suspicious behaviors. For example, they might:
- act unfriendly or secretive
- stay indoors for long periods of time
- have frequent visitors, especially at night
- watch passing cars with suspicion
- keep their curtains permanently drawn or hang up sheets to block the windows
- always bring their garbage to another location instead of leaving it for curbside pickup
- always smoke outside (which might mean there are highly combustible chemicals inside)
What To Do If You Find A Meth Lab
If you think you’ve found a meth lab, don’t investigate the area, as it’s likely filled with toxic chemicals. Also, don’t confront the owners, as they may respond with violence. Instead, contact your local law enforcement officials so they can assess the situation.
If you or a loved one struggles with methamphetamine abuse, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. We offer therapy, support groups, and other substance abuse treatment services to help people overcome meth addiction.
- Nevada Attorney General — Recognizing a Meth House / Structure
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Know the Risks of Meth
- United States National Library of Medicine — Methamphetamine
- United States Department of Justice — Methamphetamine Laboratory Identification and Hazards Fast Facts
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.