How to Recognize a Meth Lab

How to Recognize a Meth Lab & Ingredients

How to Recognize a Meth Lab

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), meth is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that increases alertness, reduces appetite, elevates breathing and heart rate, and raises both blood pressure and body temperature. In addition to these dangerous effects, the process of making meth is highly unsafe.

Unfortunately, it is relatively easy to make meth in small at-home labs using a variety of toxic chemicals, which can lead to explosions and house fires.

If you think a friend or family member may be running a meth lab, it is important to be aware of the dangerous chemicals people use in this process.

This knowledge can help you identify a meth lab and intervene as necessary so that your loved one receives help.

Article at a Glance:

  • It is relatively easy to make meth in a small at-home lab using toxic and dangerous chemicals.
  • Common meth ingredients are acetone, anhydrous ammonia, pseudoephedrine, hydrochloric acid, and lithium.
  • Making meth is dangerous because of the hazardous chemicals and risks of fires.
  • Signs that a house is meth lab are blacked-out windows, many chemical containers, and hoses hanging from windows.
  • Meth users can get professional help for their addiction, including cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational programs.

How to Know if Someone You Know or Love Is Making Meth (Household Ingredients to Be Aware of)

If you are concerned that a loved one is making meth, some chemicals you may find in the home can suggest your suspicions are true. The common ingredients of meth, where they’re found and their associated dangers include the following:

  • Acetone is found in nail polish remover and paint thinner. It’s extremely flammable.
  • Anhydrous Ammonia is found in fertilizer and some cleaners. Mixing it with other chemicals creates a toxic gas.
  • Pseudoephedrine is a medication typically used as a nasal decongestant or to treat seasonal allergies. According to the National Library of Medicine, side effects of this drug include tremors, sweating and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Hydrochloric Acid is used to make plastic. It is so corrosive that it can remove rust from steel and is capable of eating away flesh.
  • Lithium is found in batteries. It burns the skin, is highly explosive and reacts violently with water.
  • Red phosphorus is found on matchboxes, in road flares and other explosives. It is highly flammable.
  • Toluene is found in brake fluid. It is so corrosive it can dissolve rubber.
  • Sodium Hydroxide or lye is used to dissolve roadkill. It is corrosive and can also burn skin or cause blindness.
  • Sulfuric Acid is found in drain cleaner or toilet cleaner. It is corrosive and can also burn the skin.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), most meth is produced in small, secret laboratories in homes, apartments, motel rooms, mobile homes, house trailers, campgrounds or even private businesses.

Many people who make it in home laboratories use the “shake and bake” method, which produces no more than 2 ounces of meth per round of production. This method typically involves mixing pseudoephedrine tablets with other chemicals, such as lithium, in a plastic soda bottle.

The presence of plastic bottles can be another indicator that a loved one is making meth in the home.

The Dangers of Making Meth

As noted previously, meth labs involve the use of chemicals that can cause house fires and explosions, but this is not the only danger of making meth.

According to public health experts, the chemicals used in meth production can irritate the nose and throat and lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and breathing problems.

More serious issues are linked to exposure to these chemicals, including skin burns, eye damage, kidney damage and even cancer.

Meth production can also facilitate the formation of other hazardous chemicals. Meth residue is so dangerous that it can lead to property contamination. Experts warn that it is unsafe to enter a former meth lab without protective equipment. The toxic chemicals involved in meth production are clearly hazardous to human health.

How Can You Spot a Meth Lab?

Meth cooking typically occurs in secret, as users and producers do not want law enforcement or neighbors to learn what they are doing. To remain clandestine, those who make meth may attempt to conceal their activities by covering windows. That said, it is usually difficult to hide all of the materials associated with meth production.

A house may contain a meth lab if you notice the following from outside:

  • Blacked-out windows
  • Chemical cans or drums such as Drano, iodine crystals, lye, pool acid, antifreeze, etc.
  • Extensive security, such as “Beware of Dog” or “Private Property” signs, surveillance cameras and listening devices
  • High fences around the yard, especially when no animals are present
  • Hoses hanging from windows
  • Excessive quantities of trash
  • Secretive or paranoid occupants
  • The smell of solvents
  • Visitors at odd hours, especially late at night

A house may be a meth lab if you notice the following while inside:

  • Ammonia
  • Camping fuel
  • Dismantled smoke detectors
  • Empty pill bottles, and cans of alcohol, toluene and paint thinner
  • Funnels
  • Lab equipment, glass tubes, beakers, Bunsen burners and large plastic containers
  • Large amounts of cat litter
  • Many stoves, hot plates, or blow torches
  • Mason jars or other glass containers
  • Melted pots and pans
  • Numerous cold medicines or non-prescription weight-loss pills
  • Plastic soda bottles
  • Plastic tubes
  • Propane tanks
  • Red-stained coffee filters
  • Starter fluid

If you believe that you’ve found a meth lab, do not approach it, as the chemicals inside could be dangerous or even lethal. Instead, alert local law enforcement agencies, who can conduct an investigation and safely enter the property with protective equipment.

How Can Meth Users/Cookers Get Help?

In addition to the dangers associated with meth production, ongoing use of meth is harmful to users and often leads to addiction. According to NIDA, meth use is linked to numerous consequences, including increased risk of HIV and hepatitis from shared needles, and risky behaviors unprotected sex. Meth use can also lead to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Significant weight loss
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Violent behavior
  • Problems with learning and memory due to brain damage

Because meth users experience withdrawal symptoms anxiety, fatigue and severe depression when they stop using the drug, it is often difficult to give up the habit, and professional intervention is necessary.

Meth users can seek professional help by contacting a local drug and alcohol treatment provider and making an appointment.

Providers that offer cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational programs tend to be viable options for meth addiction. With cognitive behavioral therapy, meth users can learn new ways of coping so they can avoid drug use.

Motivational programs also provide rewards for staying abstinent from meth, which can incentivize the treatment process.

If you or a loved one is suffering from meth addiction and a co-occurring mental illness, The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment services to address both conditions. Contact us today to begin a life that is free from the devastating consequences of meth use.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes.

We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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Methamphetamine Laboratory Identification and Hazards Fast Facts

How to Recognize a Meth Lab

A methamphetamine laboratory is an illicit operation that has the apparatus and chemicals needed to produce the powerful stimulant methamphetamine. (See list of products and equipment.) These laboratories vary dramatically in size and output.

Large laboratories, known as super labs, produce 10 pounds or more of the drug per production cycle. Much smaller laboratories—sometimes called box labs—produce as little as an ounce or less of the drug and are small enough to fit in a box or backpack.

Methamphetamine laboratories are increasingly prevalent throughout the United States.

In 2002 more than 7,500 laboratories were seized in 44 states, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Intelligence Center National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System.

While methamphetamine production remains most common in the western portion of the United States—particularly California—seizures of methamphetamine laboratories in the west central part of the country have become more commonplace.

Methamphetamine laboratories may be located virtually anywhere. Laboratories have been found in secluded rural areas as well as in residential, commercial, and industrial districts.

Law enforcement officers have seized laboratories at private residences, commercial properties, hotels and motels, and outdoor locations.

Mobile laboratories have been discovered in automobiles, boats, and luggage.

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What are the signs that a methamphetamine laboratory may be present?   

The following, often in combination, may indicate the presence of a methamphetamine laboratory:

  • Unusual odors (ether, ammonia, acetone, or other chemicals)
  • Excessive amounts of trash, particularly chemical containers (see list of products and equipment), coffee filters or pieces of cloth that are stained red, and duct tape rolls
  • Curtains always drawn or windows covered with aluminum foil or blackened on residences, garages, sheds, or other structures
  • Evidence of chemical waste or dumping
  • Frequent visitors, particularly at unusual times
  • Extensive security measures or attempts to ensure privacy (no trespassing or beware of dog signs, fences, large trees or shrubs)
  • Secretive or unfriendly occupants

What hazards are associated with them?

The chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are extremely hazardous. Some are highly volatile and may ignite or explode if mixed or stored improperly. Fire and explosion pose risks not only to the individuals producing the drug but also to anyone in the surrounding area, including children, neighbors, and passersby. 

Even when fire or explosion does not occur, methamphetamine production is dangerous. Simply being exposed to the toxic chemicals used to produce the drug poses a variety of health risks, including intoxication, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, serious respiratory problems, severe chemical burns, and damage to internal organs.

Inhalation. Inhaling chemical vapors and gases resulting from methamphetamine production causes shortness  of breath, cough, and chest pain. Exposure to these vapors and gases may also cause intoxication, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, chemical pneumonitis, and other serious respiratory problems when absorbed into the body through the lungs.

Skin Contact. The chemicals used to produce methamphetamine may cause serious burns if they come into contact with the skin.

Ingestion. Toxic chemicals can be ingested either by consuming contaminated food or beverages or by inadvertently consuming the chemicals directly.

(Young children present at laboratory sites are at particular risk of ingesting chemicals.

) Ingesting toxic chemicals—or methamphetamine itself—may result in potentially fatal poisoning, internal chemical burns, damage to organ function, and harm to neurological and immunologic functioning.

In addition, methamphetamine production threatens the environment. The average methamphetamine laboratory produces 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Operators often dispose of this waste improperly, simply by dumping it near the laboratory. This can cause contamination of the soil and nearby water supplies.

Methamphetamine Laboratory Hazards

PseudoephedrineIngestion of doses greater than 240 mg causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, dizziness, and vomiting. Ingestion of doses greater than 600 mg can lead to renal failure and seizures.
Acetone/ ethyl alcoholExtremely flammable, posing a fire risk in and around the laboratory. Inhalation or ingestion of these solvents causes severe gastric irritation, narcosis, or coma.
FreonInhalation can cause sudden cardiac arrest or severe lung damage. It is corrosive if ingested.
Anhydrous ammoniaA colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. Inhalation causes edema of the respiratory tract and asphyxia. Contact with vapors damages eyes and mucous membranes.
Red phosphorusMay explode as a result of contact or friction. Ignites if heated above 260° C. Vapor from ignited phosphorus severely irritates the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes.
Hypophosphorous acidExtremely dangerous substitute for red phosphorus. If overheated, deadly phosphine gas is released. Poses a serious fire and explosion hazard.
Lithium metalExtremely caustic to all body tissues. Reacts violently with water and poses a fire or explosion hazard.
Hydriodic acidA corrosive acid with vapors that are irritating to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. If ingested, causes severe internal irritation and damage that may cause death.
Iodine crystalsGive off vapor that is irritating to respiratory system and eyes. Solid form irritates the eyes and may burn skin. If ingested, cause severe internal damage.
PhenylpropanolamineIngestion of doses greater than 75 mg causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, and dizziness. Quantities greater than 300 mg can lead to renal failure, seizures, stroke, and death.
Source: DEA Office of Diversion Control.


Identifying Meth Labs: Breeding Grounds for Toxic Environments

How to Recognize a Meth Lab

“Breaking Bad”, a show about a chemistry teacher who decides to try and earn more money by converting an old RV into a mobile meth lab, ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013 and remains a popular and well-d TV show today. While the premise and events of the show are fictional, it is true that many makeshift laboratories have cropped up across the country in an attempt to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine.

Many people, both fans and people who have never seen “Breaking Bad”, are aware of the dangerous reputation that is attached to meth labs. Beyond the illegality of these labs, they’ve also gained a certain infamy for being an extremely toxic environment and harmful to an individual’s health.

In addition to a poisonous environment, these labs have been known to injure or kill people in fires and explosions. Sadly, these explosions and fires are not all that rare when it comes to meth labs. In fact, they are almost expected.

Although on the surface, a meth lab might not seem so serious, the health consequences and risks of trying to cook up meth in haphazard, makeshift labs hidden away in vehicles and apartments can have a huge impact on an individual’s health. Even individuals in the surrounding area or family members who live under the same roof as a meth lab can find their health compromised.

Take this recent news Florida as an example. As reported one month ago by the Tampa Bay Times, a lab for illicit drug production that was located inside an apartment complex exploded and displaced residents from neighboring units.

What Do Meth Labs Look ?

As methamphetamine misuse and addiction rises across the country, more people are turning to meth labs as a means of production to stock meth for a personal habit or to sell the product in order to reinvest the profits into a meth addiction andor personal gain.

States that lead the country in terms of number of meth labs include Missouri, Tennessee, and Indiana. Meth labs tend to be found more frequently in the Midwest and South.

Although many of these states have lower populations than states California, New York, and Texas, the number of meth labs and meth lab related incidents is much lower, as reported by Business Insider.

Meth labs are much more ly to be found in rural areas and small cities.

Meth labs can be set up in various locations including, sheds, vehicles, apartments, houses, and even hotels. Typically, though, kitchens are popular and common spots to cook up meth. Rural locations in forests and woods are also sought -after areas, offering seclusion and a place away from pedestrian traffic and prying neighbors.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) notes that meth labs can vary in size and scope of meth production. Labs can be classified the amount of meth that a lab is able to put out in one production cycle.

The DOJ defines large laboratories, — also known as super labs, — as those that can “produce 10 pounds or more of the drug per production cycle.

” Meanwhile, small labs, — sometimes known as box labs, — are identified as those that “produce as little as an ounce or less of the drug and are small enough to fit in a box or backpack.”

Meth labs are most easily identified by spotting certain pieces of equipment and stockpiles of ingredients that can be used in meth production. Many household items such as coffee filters and kitty litter can be used in production processes.

The DOJ reports that the following are signs that could indicate the existence of a meth lab:

  • Strange odors, including ether, ammonia, or acetone
  • Large amounts of trash, (to the point of being excessive), especially any type of chemical container, coffee filters, red-stained cloths, and duct tape rolls
  • Curtains that are always drawn over windows or windows covered with other materials such as aluminum foil
  • Chemical dumping or waste
  • Unfamiliar visitors who visitsvisit at strange times
  • Many attempts to ensure privacy through signage (“No Trespassing” or “Beware Dog”)
  • Extensive efforts to plant hedges and trees to obscure the view of the property
  • Secretive occupants who tend to keep to themselves and might be described as secluded or unfriendly

Propane tanks with fittings that have since turned blue, stockpiles of pills that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and cookware (such as frying pans) that have a powdery residue.

While some of these signs can also be found in daily life and aren’t necessarily a sign of anything, whenever these kinds of indicators are found in excess is when meth production could be a possibility. In general, meth production involves a great deal of everyday items. It is only when a stockpile of products and strange assortment of trash is uncovered that causes suspicionsillicit activity is suspected.

The Exterior Of A Meth Lab

During the process of making meth, toxic fumes and strong odors are produced. These fumes partly contribute to the toxic environment in meth labs.

Therefore, individuals who are familiar with the meth -making process will try to properly ventilate the lab. Fans are installed and windows are opened in an attempt to move fresher air throughout the lab.

However, this ventilation also succeeds in moving some of those potent fumes outside of the lab, making them noticeable to neighbors and people passing by.

Burned and dead patches in the surrounding vegetation can also indicate the presence of a meth lab due to chemical dumping.

What Makes Meth Labs So Toxic?

Many of the chemicals and other ingredients used in meth production are highly toxic, even though many of these materials can be easily acquired. Some ingredients used in meth production include materials antifreeze, iodine, and kitty litter. As you can see, these kinds of items are found in many homes, but ingesting them or using them improperly can be highly toxic.

Hazardous chemicals that burn grass and vegetationsvegetation when dumped can be a telltale sign of an active meth lab, but they also actively harm occupants inside the lab. These chemicals release vapors during chemical reactions that can damage the membranes of skin, eyes, and lungs.

Repeated exposure to meth can cause a host of problems in an individual. Even coming into contact with skin can create the infamous meth sores and irritate skin or cause an infection.

Meth exposure increases a person’s risk of experiencing effects nausea, skin and eye infections, burns, dizziness, vomiting, breathing difficulties, confusion, and throat irritation.

Over time, constantly inhaling chemical vapors can increase the risk of developing some cancers.

The intensity to which side effects from meth exposure will occur depends on the specific types of chemicals one has been exposed to, the amount of that chemical, the current health of the individual, and the duration of exposure. The longer and more frequent someone is exposed to these chemicals in meth labs, the worse their symptoms might be expected to be.

Illegal Chemical Dumps And Radioactivity

As we’ve mentioned previously, the production of meth involves a lot of illegal dumping of the chemicals used in manufacturing.

The dumping of these chemicals, metals, and other hazardous materials onto the ground can pave the way for exposed soil to soak up these radioactive chemicals and toxic materials.

Continued dumps of chemicals and trash empty bottles and containers harm the environment and begin to contaminate that specific area.

People who live near a meth lab can easily be affected by these illegal chemical dumps. The effects of the meth production refuse can contaminate an area, including pieces of earth outside and in interior spaces such as homes, for years to come.

When meth labs are found, they must be safely dismantled and cleaned by experts who know how to handle the toxic materials found in the lab without compromising their safety and the safety of people around them.

Meth labs must be meticulously cleaned before the area can be deemed safe once again. Sadly, in some cases, entire buildings can be deemed unsafe and evacuated or demolished, displacing residents.

The toxins from meth production can also affect the health of neighbors in both short and long-term ways, depending on the intensity and duration of exposure.

It is possible for contamination levels from a former meth lab to test higher than average in newly converted homes, since the toxins can be absorbed by things such as carpet or drapes.

Second-Hand Exposure To Meth Toxins In Children

Since meth labs can be constructed inside of homes and established in kitchens, it is sadly not unheard of to find meth labs located inside a family’s apartment or house. The toxicity of meth, as we’ve come to see, not only applies to those who make and use it, but to neighbors and children who live where the lab is located as well.

Generally speaking, children are not in a position to remove themselves from the toxic environment of a meth lab, whereas an adult who is aware of the meth manufacturing could remove themselves from the location or alert the proper authorities.

Children whose parents manufacture meth at home to use, to sell, or both, are exposed to large quantities of toxins and for long periods of time. These two factors only increase the chances of a child experiencing severe health problems.

Plenty of household objects can absorb or pick up the toxins in the environment. Young children especially are prone to putting objects in their mouths.

In this way, everyday items blankets, carpet, drapes, pillows, couches, and bottles that have become contaminated can end up being put in a child’s mouth. Toxins in other places can simply be inhaled by a child.

Meth toxins can even cling to hair, making a parent’s hair a suddenly contaminated space.

Many children in these situations, in essence, are surrounded by a toxic environment no matter where they turn. Unattended needles that are left out carelessly can cause a child to prick themselves.

Sinks and toilets suddenly become dangerous spots for encounters with chemical dumps and other manufacturing byproducts. Silverware and plates used for dinner still retain some residue. A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola that is being used to store meth is easily mistaken for soda by a child.

Children have been injured or killed as a result of ingesting drinks they mistook for water, soda, or juice.

This repeated exposure to meth and continued residence in a toxic environment can lead to problems such as kidney failure, birth defects for pregnant women, respiratory problems, spleen and liver damage, brain damage, and death.

The Infamous Meth Lab Explosions

If meth labs are known for one thing, it’s probably their tendency to blow up  — or at least cause some serious fires.

These fires and explosions are very normal in meth labs. The two are almost synonymous. No matter where a lab is located or who is operating it, fires and explosions are almost a guarantee for some lab somewhere in the country.

These catastrophes occur due to the combination of toxic chemicals and compounds that are mixed together in the manufacturing process while heated over a stove. None of these chemicals ought to be taken lightly.

They are hazardous and have the potential to really harm a person’s health. In addition, many of the chemicals used to manufacture meth are highly flammable.

When these flammable chemicals are mixed together over high heat, the risk of explosions and fires is high.

One particular method of producing meth is thought to increase the chances of an explosion even further. This method is called the “shake and bake.” Making shake and bake meth involves using a 2-liter bottle filled with ingredients.

The issue here comes from the high amount of pressure inside the bottle. The pressure that all the combined ingredients put on a simple 2-liter bottle is enormous.

This intense pressure can result in explosions and fires that have been known to kill the maker, or at least severely injure the individual.

Injuries such as lost limbs, scarring, burns, and even death are all common outcomes in meth lab-related explosions and fires.

At Vertava Health, we recognize the seriousness of meth misuse. Not only is the individual affected, but loved ones are hurt and worried about that individual’s future and health. We are here to provide assistance and comprehensive treatment. With Vertava Health, you can experience life-changing care.

With a highly individualized approach to treatment, we are constantly rethinking the way we can best treat our patients. Our expert team of counselors, therapists, and clinical staff help us bring the highest level of care to our patients. Your best future is waiting. Call (615) 208-2941 to begin your life-changing treatment.

Why do meth labs explode/ blow up?

Meth labs are well known for exploding due to the volatility of the chemicals used in production. Many of the toxic chemicals used to make meth are already quite volatile and highly flammable. When these chemicals are mixed together, the result is a highly flammable and high pressure concoction.

Meth is made over a stove and requires ingredients to be heated together. Flammable ingredients under high pressure and heat create a perfect formula for an explosion or a fire.

What do meth labs smell ?

Meth labs can smell a variety of chemicals, but in general, the smell is usually described as ether or ammonia. Some claims compare the scent to cat litter or rotten eggs.

What state has the most meth labs?

The state with the most meth labs often changes year to year, but according to a 2019 publication by the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri ranks #1 in meth manufacturing in the United States. Other states in the conversation include Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan.


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