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IAmA former meth lab operator, AMA (update, I may be writing a book about it)

Sep 5th 2012 by HeisenbergSpeci • 24 Questions • 722 Points

The first time I did an AMA, I got a lot of suggestions to write a book about my experiences. I've created a Kickstarter page for the book I was planning to write. If you want more information about it, or you want to read excerpts from it, or you want to read a brief synopsis of my story, check out that page.

The first time I did an AMA, I was still pre-sentence. I've been sentenced since then, and I haven't been given any prison time, which I guess is a good thing. The federal sentencing guidelines say I should serve approximately two years in prison for possessing enough methamphetamine precursor to make about 2.8 grams of methamphetamine. That's about the weight of a US penny. I had no intent to sell methamphetamine, and never did, since I didn't want to get anyone else hooked on it. It was only ever for me.

But supposedly I got off easy, and so I have to be on home confinement with an ankle bracelet system. I have to pay about $100 a month for the privilege of not being in prison, which I can't afford because I'm trying to finish my masters' degree and don't have a job. The restrictions on me have made it hard to get very much done, although they're better now than they were a year ago. This whole punishment thing has made it virtually impossible to make any progress in my life, for the last two years.

I was using marijuana and low doses of methamphetamine to overcome my bipolar disorder and my ADD. It worked extremely well, but now that those drugs are no longer available to me, I can't do anywhere near the work I used to be able to do, as a researcher in the field of urological oncology. I'm a convicted felon, for the rest of my life. I can't own a gun, vote, or pass a background check for any job in my field. And even if I could, the mental illness factor makes it almost impossible for me to hold down jobs. I'm only really mentally competent about 2-3 days a week, and if I have to do work outside of those days, I just fuck it up horribly, or sit and stare at a screen all day without doing anything. This is pretty much how I was before I started using drugs.

I am currently undergoing psychiatric treatment on a regular basis. It has not been helpful. Since I've been arrested, I've seen eight psychiatrists and five counselors. I've been on 17 psychiatric medications. None of them has been helpful enough for me to prefer it over nothing, except for the amphetamine-based ADD medications. I am being prescribed Vyvanse at the moment, and it's better than nothing, but if I'm really depressed that day then it isn't helpful at all.

I want to move on with my life. I really do. I don't want to be this useless piece of shit that spends upwards of 20 hours a day in bed on most days. That's the whole reason I started using drugs in the first place. They made it so I could do my job, and do it well. For once in my life, I was a reliable employee. I'm sure that some people can get horribly addicted to the drugs I was using, but I didn't. They just allowed me to function at a much higher level. I really want to help people, and help change the US drug policy, but I'm not sure how I could. I was hoping to be able to write a book, but I'm not sure if that plan will fall through or not. I need "gainful employment" to stay out of prison, although I might be able to get some sort of exemption due to my mental illness issues. I guess that remains to be seen. But in the meantime, I've basically been living off the support of my family.

I don't think I can keep living like this for too much longer. I've got to break out of this forced dependency somehow. My own freedom and independence is really important to me. But I'm being forced to depend on public assistance and on my family's financial support. I'm required to be on Medicaid, since the useless drugs they've prescribed me frequently cost more than rent would. Thanks, US taxpayers, but thousands of dollars of your money was wasted here. Self-medication used to cost me $20-$30 a month out of my own pocket, now it's hundreds of dollars a month out of yours. I wish it wasn't like this, and I wish I could give back somehow.

Sorry if I sound like I was bitching too much, but I just really don't know where I'm supposed to go from here. I hate feeling so useless and helpless all the time, but when my mind can shut down seemingly at random, it's hard to know what to do about it.

So anyway, ask me anything. I've had a first-hand look at the criminal justice system, I've synthesized my own drugs, grown my own weed, and gone through the rehab and mental health systems. I spent a month in jail. I have a background in chemistry, and know a lot about drugs and drug synthesis. I've seen the first four seasons of Breaking Bad, and already pointed out where they get the chemistry wrong in my first AMA. I've been verified by the mods twice now. The proof I gave was a newspaper article detailing my arrest, a scan of my driver's license, a picture of a bunch of medication bottles for depression, bipolar disorder, and ADD, a picture of a certificate of attendance for a urology symposium, and a picture of my foot with an ankle bracelet on it.

TL;DR: Had problems with bipolar disorder and ADD that made it really hard to hold down a job. Gave psychiatric medicine a shot for four years, it didn't help. Self-medicated with illegal drugs I made myself, which worked really well for some time. Was careless and got caught. Currently suffering the consequences.

Q:

How'd you get busted?

A:

Car was searched. I was in the process of moving at the time, and there was a lot of junk in my car. Some of it was chemistry equipment, although it wasn't anything I'd ever used for drug chemistry. A few unlucky coincidences came together too, that made the police extremely suspicious of me.


Q:

Do you have the urge to continue your previous lifestyle? I'd imagine someone with bipolar disorder and add to have a hard time finding another outlet that worked the same as your combination of drugs.

A:

It's possible but difficult to go back to that lifestyle legally. Methamphetamine is available via prescription in the United States, under the name "Desoxyn". If I can get a doctor to prescribe that, for ADD, and then also move to a state that will prescribe me medical marijuana for bipolar disorder, I'd be all set. However, last time I looked into this, it was prohibitively expensive, and methamphetamine is contraindicated for people with bipolar since it can exacerbate mood instability. But combined with marijuana, it worked great for me.

It took a long time for me to convince people that the drugs were helping me, after I was arrested. They all expected me to do better at my job if I wasn't using those drugs. My probation officer kept thinking I was using drugs but just cheating his tests somehow because I kept testing negative but wasn't making any progress in school. I said something to the effect of "if I start making progress in grad school, that's how you'll know I'm using drugs." He was really surprised to hear me say that.

The crazy thing is that there's legally a way for me to use methamphetamine, if I can get a prescription for Desoxyn. But there isn't a way for me to get marijuana, which is the other half of what I was using, without moving out of state. If I really wanted to use methamphetamine, I could also get a prescription for a drug that shows up as methamphetamine on a urinalysis, then use all the meth I wanted since I'd have an excuse for it showing up on a drug test. But I think that would be irresponsible without having the weed to balance out the negative effects of it.


Q:

What type of student were you in high school?

A:

I was one of those students who coasted through high school. I had a terrible time with taking notes and doing homework, but I'd make up for it by acing the tests. I had mostly A's, and was sixth or seventh in a class of about 45.


Q:

standard Breaking Bad reference/joke

A:

standard answer to Breaking Bad reference/joke


Q:

What about our drug laws need changed? I feel like (and I could absolutely be wrong, tell me if I am) you were representative of the tiniest percentage of meth users. What I mean is how could we possibly reconcile altering our laws to benefit people like you with protecting the thousands of people who are functionally destroyed by meth?

A:

If it were up to me, and it isn't, this is what I'd do:

Other than weed (which should just be controlled like tobacco or alcohol), I think drugs should be available only in pill form, so that they can't be injected or snorted or smoked. This would make them a lot less addictive, and make addictions less harmful. And their distribution should be highly controlled, such that they keep track of your purchasing patterns, so they can identify people at higher risk of addiction.

Another way might be to only distribute drugs as part of vitamin-enriched nutrient bars, which would have vitamins and antioxidants that would mitigate any damage from the drugs, and would also put a limit on dosage, since you'd only be able to consume so many at once.

But the main problem with the way things are now is this: the laws are NOT protecting addicts and potential addicts. People like Walter White and the Sinaloa cartel are more than willing to make millions exploiting people's addictions. Street prices of meth, cocaine, and heroin are usually higher per gram than gold or platinum. And they're all made out of four of the most common elements on the planet. Thousands of people are dying because of the wars between the Latin American cartels. This can't be sustained. The problem will only get worse.


Q:

If Breaking Bad wasn't on television, no one would stop to consider you anything more than a junkie who has justified his poor choices by thinking that these drugs regulate your life.

But thanks to the wonders of TV, everyone can ask you asinine questions about whether or not you cooked in an RV or used a fast food joint as a guise instead of just asking whether or not you realize you're just another addict.

A:

I see your point, although my problem was never addiction. It was, and continues to be, mental illness.


Q:

You mentioned

It wasn't long before I was displaying some of the erratic behavior and poor judgment that's typical of this drug.

in your kickstarter page. Do you think it would have gotten worse if you'd continued to take meth?

A:

I'm not sure. I guess I'll never know. I should have told someone close to me, so they could let me know how it was affecting me, but I didn't, so they had no idea why I was acting the way I was. I was afraid to tell anyone though, since I thought they'd either use it against me or force me to quit altogether. And I really didn't want to have to go back to being depressed all the time.


Q:

I have a question to you. Have you ever tried Adderall? I'm a 20-year-old and I suffer from Bipolar/PTSD/ADHD. Both weed and Adderall help me incredible amounts, although I am no longer on Adderall because I found myself very addicted to it.

I only ask because Adderall is amphetamine salts and is a very powerful stimulant, and although it may not be on par with methamphetamine it might be worth a shot if you haven't tried it yet.

A:

Adderall is helpful most of the time, but not during major depression, which for me is about 10% of the time or so. Usually my depression isn't that severe, though, and Adderall is somewhat helpful.


Q:

I'm sorry, but there is no way that you would achieve >96.2% purity that Jesse or the 99.1% purity that Walt produces using apparatus available at home.

As for the blue colour of the BrBa methamphetamine, there probably isn't anything in Walt's reductive amination of phenylacetone with methylamine that would likely cause it to go blue, just makes for some nice symbolism in the show.

Also, Walt's chosen method isn't even very good, unless he can select for the D-isomer in it. Perhaps I care too much about pretend chemistry.

A:

Of course you don't have that purity right from the start, but that's why they have purification techniques. Proper recrystallization combined with the right sort of washes can eliminate virtually any impurities.

That's true about the D-isomer though. I thought they should have gone with Walt designing some sort of super hydrogenation catalyst that was exceptionally chirally selective, but they ended up just using a stupidly easy technique that anyone could figure out how to use (Al/Hg).

I understand why they did the thing with the blue color, but my point was just that the blue is necessarily an impurity, since pure methamphetamine hydrochloride is totally clear.

Oh, and FYI, you can't reductively aminate phenylacetic acid. ;)


Q:

Okay yes, I made this shit up.

A:

I'm sure that sounds smart to non-chemists but it's nonsense.


Q:
  • After facing all the consequences, fair or not, do you regret your route in self-medication? Do you think self-medication is a valid choice in regards towards your disorders?

Disclosing my personal bias

I can't claim to know you, nor could I ultimately judge you. However, most addicts has a tendency of justifying their addictions (regardless of substance and/or habits). With that in mind I have to take your story with a grain of salt. Further, I'm biased towards the idea of self-medication. In any circumstance, I think self-medication isn't a wise choice even if you are an expert/knowledgeable in the area, because I think it's nearly impossible to have an objective view regarding when dealing with one's own illness.

I am genuinely curious on how you would respond to my question. Personal bias or not I'm always open to other people's view (why I surf reddit). On a side note, I do hope your situation improves.

A:

I think that the most important thing that I lacked, was some sort of external feedback from people that were close to me. Because no one knew what I was doing, no one was able to give me any feedback. I started acting like a jerk to certain people, because they were trying to get between me and projects I was working on. If they had been able to tell me, "dude, this shit is starting to get to your head, you're acting like a dick", I think I could have seen where they were coming from.

This is why it's important to have psychotropic medication administered by someone else, so they can monitor your progress and help you adjust to it. It's sort of like how people use a "trip sitter" when taking psychedelics, to keep an eye on them and keep them under control.

But you're right in that it's hard to monitor yourself from the inside, so to speak.


Q:

Have you ever tried to synthesize other drugs, like morphine?

A:

I was never that interested in opiates. I've been on Vicodin for an abscessed tooth, but it just made me all itchy and sleepy. It did make my tooth stop hurting, but I had no real desire to do it again.

If someone wanted to make their own morphine, they'd just have to grow a whole mess of poppies. I see old ladies growing them in their gardens all the time, and they never seem to have DEA agents knocking on their doors.


Q:

Is your chemistry experience focused solely on methamphetamine or can you make other cool stuff with everyday chemicals? Could you McGyver your way out of a place with just some chemicals and a respirator?

A:

Explosives are really easy to make in small quantities. I've made nitroglycerin before. I put two drops on a paper towel once and hit it with a hammer, and it sounded like a gunshot going off.

I messed around with other explosives too, particularly one called "erythritol tetranitrate", which is quite a bit more stable than nitroglycerin. Once, I detonated a bit of it on a piece of foil, and it shot shards of aluminum into my thumb.

There are some pretty cool reactions you can do with everyday chemicals. I could think of hundreds, but here are two:

Mix methanol (HEET gas line dryer, in the yellow bottle) and boric acid (available at some drugstores) so you have a decently high-concentration solution. This stuff will burn brilliant green, at a low temperature. It's fun to do outside at night, just make sure you don't leave the container open when you light it.

Also, mix nail polish remover (or straight acetone) with regular bleach to see the haloform reaction. You need maybe 20 parts chlorine bleach to one part acetone/nail polish remover. It will heat up, then little droplets will form and sink to the bottom. This is chloroform. Don't use it to knock people out though, since it doesn't work as well as it does in the movies, and it's moderately toxic to your liver over a period of time.


Q:

What can I do to gain this sort of chemistry knowledge without poisoning myself or blowing up my apartment? Do you know of any good online resources that would help me?

A:

Sites like sciencemadness.org are a good resource. It depends on what sort of chemistry you're interested in too. You really can't be doing much in the way of chemistry in an apartment though, unless you stick to things like electroplating. Electroplating can be pretty cool though. You can dissolve copper and nickel in acid to get their salts, then plate them onto other metal. I've never chrome-plated anything, but I'm sure there are guides out there for doing that sort of thing.


Q:

Explosives are really easy to make in small quantities.

The binary liquid explosives terrorist threat on airplanes... paranoia or bullshit?

A:

It's possible, but acetone peroxide is a REALLY unstable explosive. The Arabic slang for this stuff translates to, I believe, "mother of satan", because of how variable it is from batch to batch. Like, they might have three batches in a row that are hard to set off, then one batch that blows up in the chemist's face.

I'm not sure what they'd do with it once they had it though. Just detonate it in the middle of the plane and injure a few people? The most they'd be able to make would probably be about as much as you'd find in a hand grenade, but without a grenade to put it in, it wouldn't seem to be all that useful for terrorism purposes. And odds are very good that it would detonate prematurely anyway.

Just my thoughts. Personally, I've never been interested in detonating more than half a gram or so of explosives at a time.


Q:

I want to try methanol + boric acid. What safety precautions should be taken?

A:

Just make a solution in a bottle. The yellow HEET bottle works fine. Pour a little bit on something absorbent, outside, not near any open flames. Make sure the cap is on the bottle, and light the solution you poured out, ideally with one of those long candle lighters with a trigger. Methanol is somewhat toxic, but it's really only a problem if you drink it, so just don't do that. It burns at a low temperature, which is why this combination is often used by fire-eaters. It's still pretty hot, but I've had burning methanol on my skin before without suffering burns, (not on purpose!) and it's nowhere near as dangerous as, say, gasoline.

The reason this works is that methanol's chemical structure causes it to burn with a pale blue flame, much like natural gas. This flame is kind of hard to see, so to make it more visible, you can mix different salts in it. As the flame burns, the salts glow in their characteristic spectra, which can make the flame all different colors. Boric acid is the most impressive, but you can use other salts like sodium too. Sodium just has a boring orange spectrum though. After the flame burns, it might leave behind some boric acid residue, but this is harmless and water-soluble.

Let me know how it goes. :)


Q:

Why don't you apply for a medical marijuana card? It would save you a lot of legal trouble

A:

Because I don't live in a medical marijuana state. Once I graduate, I may attempt this, but I would have to move to a state that allowed marijuana as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Plus, I'm on federal probation, and the US federal government doesn't recognize the medical value of cannabis. This might be left up to the discretion of the probation officer assigned to me though, and if I had a valid prescription it might be possible.


Q:

have you considered moving to the Netherlands?

A:

I really want to move to Portugal, since I'd have an opportunity to work on research for the ITER reactor there, at the University of Algarve. Also, they've decriminalized drugs. But I have to wait until 2015 when I'm off probation, to leave the country. Unless I never come back.


Q:

Portuguese here.

You will get free healthcare and follow up meth therapy for your ADD and bipolar disorder.

UA is probably not the best, you should try Porto or Lisbon.

You also have free counseling that allows you to explain the doctor what is best for you in terms of chemical help and once proven you will have it dropped of for you as needed.

Let me know if you need help. (my dad is an MD and hugeeeee fan of meth lol)

A:

Heh, nice. I know a professor at UA that is doing research for the ITER reactor, that is similar to work I've done in the past, which is why I'd be interested in going there. It's FUSION POWER!

What's this about "meth therapy" in Portugal anyway? And what do you mean that your dad is a huge fan of meth? That seems a bit... odd.


Q:

Is there a reason you didn't try traditional meds for your bipolar disorder like Lithium, and an anti-depressant for depression? Did you try them and they just didn't work at all? I read your previous AMA as well, btw, very interesting.

A:

I did. They weren't effective. My problem is more depression than it is mood cycling. I almost never have manic/hypomanic episodes. I have been on mood stabilizers though, but they just totally sap my motivation and energy, which is never much to begin with. I'd rather be able to be active 2-3 days a week and be depressed and apathetic the rest of the week, than be depressed and apathetic all the time. Mood stabilizers tend to remove your ability to feel emotions, I think. That's why I liked weed. It kept my mood stable, while increasing the depth of my emotions, if that makes sense. Normally, with no medication, my emotions are very shallow.

Antidepressants seem to make my ADD worse. Not always though. Some just don't do anything. Others make it feel like my brain is being zapped all the time. None have ever made a real positive difference.


Q:

$20-30 a month...bought you what exactly?

A:

Precursor chemicals, and weed. Although with the weed, I was growing my own so it was basically free.


Q:

How do you feel if you exercise?

A:

That only helps, for me, in cases where I feel like I have too much anxiety or nervous energy. Like, if it feels like my mind is too active, exercising really does help. That's usually not the case though. The worst, most common type of depression is the low-energy, apathetic, mental shutdown that seems to affect me more often than not. Exercise doesn't seem to help at all there.

But I think it could be a real help for someone with anxiety issues.


Q:

How much money did you earn? Just interested.

A:

I never sold methamphetamine. Should've made that more clear in my intro. Edited to clarify that. However, a 96-count box of pseudoephedrine costs about $10, and can be made into $200 worth of methamphetamine. So you can see the financial incentive there.

I did, however, sell weed to friends, but that's the only money I ever made on drugs, and it was really only enough to cover my expenses for electricity and the cost of the equipment for my grow op.


Q:

Hopefully I'm not too late to the party for you to see this, but I have a question. Someone very close to me (don't want to say who because some people know who I am irl who also browse reddit, and it's not exactly public knowledge) has bipolar disorder as well, and having seen them deal with that I was wondering specifically how using marijuana and/or meth impacted your bipolar disorder? Also, did you use both at the same time, or did you use them in different circumstances?

As a followup, what are your thoughts on drug legalization? Obviously, marijuana should be legal (at least if you've ever for a half second compared it to some other legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes) considering the generally overwhelmingly positive effects it seems to have. What are your thoughts on decriminalizing and/or legalizing ALL drugs, including harder drugs like meth? For example, Portugal decriminalized all drugs several years ago, and the results have been massively positive. Do you think if drug use was legalized/decriminalized, there should be a minimum age for drug use like there is for alcohol and cigarettes, and if so what should that age be?

A:

For me, marijuana, particularly the indica strains, worked to stabilize my mood, without causing the sort of awful apathy that characterizes mood stabilizers for me. When I used marijuana once or twice a week, I never experienced the unpredictable ups and downs I usually would experience.

It did have side-effects though, in that it made me lazier and less focused. Which the methamphetamine counteracted. In retrospect, I should have tried other prescription stimulants with marijuana first, but I would have felt really weird telling a doctor I wanted to try the combination of Adderall and marijuana.