Volume 40, Issue 4 (July 1995)
Ephedra's Role as a Precursor in the Clandestine Manufacture of Methamphetamine
In February 1993, an illicit, fully operational methamphetamine laboratory was confiscated in Vacaville, California. In addition to seizing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine tablets, approximately 1.3 kg of ephedra was found at the lab site. Ephedra (also referred to as Ma Huang) is a plant material that contains numerous alkaloids, including 1-ephedrine and d-pseudoephedrine. Ephedra products are currently sold over-the-counter in various forms such as tablets and capsules. Quantitative analysis reveals that some ephedra capsules and tablets contain as much methamphetamine precursors as a synthetic 25 mg ephedrine tablet. Because of this, ephedra is becoming a “substitute precursor” for ephedrine compounds for use in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.
Ephedra samples were reacted with hydriodic acid and red phosphorus in much the same way as ephedrine would be reacted in order to produce methamphetamine. The progress of the reduction was monitored by obtaining aliquots of the reaction solution at time intervals followed by analyses using GC/IRD and GC/MS. An analysis of the final product of the reaction indicated that d-metham-phetamine, d-amphetamine and d-N,N-dimethylamphetamine had been produced as a result of the reduction of ephedra. The latter two compounds result from the reduction of norephedrine and N-methylephedrine, respectively (also present in ephedra), and therefore represent markers for this synthetic methodology.