Inside a clandestine Mexican meth lab (big photo gallery)

Boing Boing readers following the violent convulsions of the drug war in Mexico, and fans of the AMC narco-drama Breaking Bad, will likely find these photos from a secret Mexican meth lab to be of interest (particularly in light of the TV show's most recent episode, "Salud.")

I can't find Jesse, Mike, Gus, or Heisenberg in any of these photos—but then, these images shot just today are the real thing.

Above: a full-face respirator gas mask hangs on a wall above plastic containers at the clandestine drug laboratory discovered in Zapotlanejo, on the outskirts of Guadalajara, September 23, 2011. Soldiers found 133 tons of a drug catalyst used in crystal methamphetamine production (phenylacetic acid, perhaps?) and 180 kg of crystal meth ready for consumption at the laboratory located on a ranch about 38 km (24 miles) east of Guadalajara, according to a local media.

The meth is no "Blue Sky," by the looks of it, and the modest gear would look out of place at the Pollos Hermanos superlab. Surely Jesse would not approve of the conditions, and it looks to be below even Don Eladio's standards. But again: this is real life.

(All photos in this post: REUTERS/Alejandro Acosta)


    1. Not so much;  Meth Labs are little concentrated toxic waste zones.   Many, many a house has been bought seemingly cheap in the US only to have the new owners find out — oft by mysterious sniffly sinus splody perpetual illnesses that lead to serious medical problems — that the house was once used as a meth lab and the toxicity has been baked into the walls.

      Random link o’ knowledge:

  1. I’d love to know the story behind how Alejandro got these photos. Doesn’t seem like a welcoming place to photographers.

  2. “I can’t find Jesse, Mike, Gus, or Heisenberger in any of these photos”

    Heisenberger is probably out having drinks with Albert Einsteinium.

      1. YAY! BB is talking about BB!  I just discovered Breaking Bad two weeks ago.  For the past 14 days, I’ve put off studying, housework, and sleep just to get my Breaking Bad fix. I’m up past 2am every night, watching episodes back-to-back-to-back, pushing back bedtime for “just one more episode…maybe another one…” It’s like, this really addictive drug but it gives me the energy to survive on nothing but peanut-butter crackers for dinner, and 3 hours of sleep per night.
        The worst part is that I’ve blown thru all 4 seasons already, so now I have to wait for the episodes to air on regular TV–a WEEK between each episode?! And I have to watch commercials!?

          1. Have you seen every show ever made? ‘Discovered’ in this instance doesn’t mean ‘became aware of’ but ‘started watching and have become a fan’. 

            Besides, some of us don’t have televisions and/or prefer to watch shows on our computers, whole series at a time instead of once a week. I actually started watching BB a couple of weeks ago, too. I’d been avoiding it before because I was depressed enough without watching a show about meth. Now I feel better, and am thoroughly enjoying how gruesome it is.

  3. after looking at the mountains of raw ingredients in that lab, can someone explain to me again why it’s necessary for me to sign my life away and be made to feel like a criminal every time I buy a couple dozen allergy pills at Walgreens?

    1. The allergy pills are the bit that contains the active ingredient while all the other “ingredients” are actually just chemicals used to transform ephedrine/pseudo-ephedrine into a form which will make you high. Without the allergy pills, the rest of the chemicals wouldn’t make meth.

      Drug companies (the legit ones) tried making allergy/cold medication which contained other forms of ephedrine that cannot be turned into meth. These medications weren’t effective, which is why we are left with regulation of ephedrine as the only remaining option. If you are buying one or a couple packs of it the pharmacists shouldn’t be giving you dodgy looks….. you need KILOGRAMS of the shit to make any decent quantity.

      On another note: can anyone find a schematic or diagram describing the process of making meth? I was looking for one several weeks ago but ended up no dice. I am in no way interested in making meth (I like non-incarceration, thanks) but I am interested in exactly what happens in each stage of the process. Can any Boingers help me out?

      1. For most illegal drugs there are multiple synthesis paths that are used to avoid detection since many chemicals are monitored.  A somewhat dated archive of different synthesis paths can be found at  ( is actually a great resource, one interesting aspect is that it explores many different psychoactive substances systematically and attempts to document the effects of different families in a relatively unbiased way).  Below is a link that will give you some idea of the kinds of techniques that are used.  Occasionally, law enforcement will publish articles laying out common synthesis chemicals just so authorities have some idea what to look for:

        and an example that is similar to what is seen on “Breaking Bad”

    2. Fuck YES. Christ. I am also treated like a criminal because I am on a schedule 2 drug. My state costs me nearly an extra $200 every 3 months because they only let me get one month at a time. My RX insurance would give me 3 months worth for the same price ;o/

      Please legalize it, people.

    3. …can someone explain to me again why it’s necessary for me to sign my
      life away and be made to feel like a criminal every time I buy a couple
      dozen allergy pills at Walgreens

      Well, duh. They treat you like an addict because you show up with watery, red eyes and a runny nose, obvious signs that you’re a tweaker. That also happen to be allergy symptoms. It’s kind of funny in a tragic sort of way.

      The pharmacist doesn’t bat an eyelash when she hands me my tub o’ Vicodin, but if I ask for generic Sudafed, I suddenly feel like I’m in a Steven Soderbergh film.

    4. Signing the digiform to get your sinus pills is not about preventing Meth production.
      It’s about instilling compliance while teaching you that you need to be protected from your neighbors and the necessity of your overlords.

  4. Someone must have had a really good time painting that truck digital camo. And if they didn’t, they should give the job to me, because I would certainly enjoy it.

  5. After only glancing at the very first picture in the series, I totally thought that gas mask was a bat hanging from the brick wall.

  6. Is that pixelated camouflage on those trucks?

    And why would there be guards standing next to pallets of raw ingredients? I want to claim BS, but I’m not sure on what. Some things look really clean while others look filthy.

    1. What’s not to understand?

      Soldiers found 133 tons of a drug catalyst used in crystal methamphetamine production (phenylacetic acid, perhaps?) and 180 kg of crystal meth ready for consumption at the laboratory located on a ranch about 38 km (24 miles) east of Guadalajara, according to a local media.

      The “secret drug lab” is no longer secret. The soldiers are guarding the stuff they found so the heavily armed gang doesn’t try to seize it. 180kg of meth alone is worth $5.5 million at wholesale price. That’s a street value of $18 million! Once they find it they have to guard it.

      1. he’s implying they planted some of it in order to look good.  Specifically – the less filth covered items. I’m not sure I agree with his point, but there it is.

    1. Yes, even meth: legalize it.

      Even illegal; it’s still everywhere; but prohibition maximizes the harm it causes in society.

      1.  I must agree.  It is time to stop treating drugs, even the legitimately harmful ones like meth, as law enforcement issues and as the public health / health care issues they are.  Law enforcement has had decades to solve the problem.  They have failed.  Spectacularly.  Isn’t it about time we try another approach to solving the problem?

        Of course, we’d have to fix our busted-ass third-world health care system first.  So, yeah, I’ll look for this to happen in approximately never.

        1. to add: The question of whether meth should be legalized, obscures the larger issue of whether our government has the appropriate agency (method)  and therefore right, to handle what someone chooses to do with their body. If government has proven itself to have improper agency, it should lose this right.

          1.  Typical glibertarian nonsense.  Yes, the government has the right, and indeed the interest, in regulating and controlling behavior that is detrimental to society.  Your drug use stops being a personal choice when entire neighborhoods are ravaged by the crime, sickness, and violence associated with harmful drug use.

            Government has just as much of an interest in stopping the use of harmful drugs as it does in preventing theft, murder, or any other violent crime.  The problem is just that they’ve been going about it in a completely futile and counterproductive fashion.

          2. Soooo why did legalizing alcohol make the crime and violence associated with it being illegal disappear overnight?

            If you legalized drugs I think you would see an uptick of petty crime. Maybe. You would see a big decline in gang related crimes, especially murders. Taxes collected off of legal drugs could be used to pay for education and treatment.

            But what do I know. What, pray tell, would be a soluton that is not ” completely futile and [in a] counterproductive fashion.”

          3. You seem to have completely misinterpreted me.  Please check my post a little further up thread.  I wholeheartedly endorse legalizing drugs.  Even the harmful ones.  Drug addition should be treated as a public health issue, and addressed as such; not as a matter for law enforcement.

            The post I was replying to there was typical glibertarian nonsense in that the person was claiming that since government has botched the response to drugs through law enforcement that it shouldn’t be trusted to address the problem in any fashion whatsoever. They also seemed to be implying that government shouldn’t have the right to regulate the personal choice to take drugs at all.

          4. I’m a libertarian!
            I’m not.
            1. “what someone does with their body”  is not just drug use.
            2. Drug use is considered a public health issue.
            3. “glib” applies to superficially labeling someone when one can’t be bothered to discuss. The irony.

            Its too bad, there was more to this topic that would have been good to take up. But you just went pseudo talk radio and that’s not where ideas live.

          5. “But you just went pseudo talk radio and that’s not where ideas live.”

            Yeah, making an ordered list and closing with that line is ABSOLUTELY NOT glibly labeling someone when one can’t be bothered to discuss.

            “irony” – You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

      2. Technically, methamphetamine is not an illegal drug. It is a schedule II controlled substance and can be prescribed legally by physicians to treat neurological disorders, including ADHD (FDA approved) and narcolepsy (off label). The brand name is Desoxyn.

        The problem is the failed “War on Drugs” which is really a war on drug users, since drugs do not wage war or fight back. Time to get rid of the police state trying to regulate what people choose to ingest and the industrial apparatus it funds to control the lives of plebeians.

      3. In fact, the prohibition of even the ingredients used to make it in the States has lead to the manufacturing using crappy alternatives. It used to be that people used meth and they lived normal lives afterwards. Now, because of the crackdowns on the materials and the labs, it’s being made really poorly with lots of impurities. The result? Meth users get their bodies destroyed by using it. If someone does kick they habit, they are trapped in a life of high health care costs and broken bodies.

  7. IF Mexico was serious about this war, they would just give the meth to the soldiers. They would be up all night hunting the cartel, and then painting their houses while they were at it. The crash would be ugly, but you could get several days of constant action ;o)

  8. 18 million?  You guys always inflate the street price to be much more than it actually is.  I want to know what street you’re buying your meth on because it’s not the street where I’m buying my meth.

    1. I just did multiplication based on the most recent figure listed here:

      You do realise that the “street value” is always calculated on a per-gram sale price right? I agree this is not an accurate way of calculating the potential profit loss to gangs through drugs seizures, but I didn’t make the rules. I don’t smoke the stuff because I like not feeling like creatures are living under my skin, but do any boingers have an idea of what it costs per gram in your neck of the woods?

      PS hatter & corwin: Thanks – I didn’t think to check erowid.

      1.  Sorry.  We seem to have a sarchasm here.  My comment (and the embedded link) was a reference to a pair of scenes in the recent John Michael McDonagh film The Guard.  There’s a rather humorous exchange between Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle referencing the street value of a shipment of drugs with dialogue that goes something along the lines of my post.

  9. 133 tons of a catalyst!?
    Were they making a planetary-sized blob of meth?
    (Chem nerd nitpick: a catalyst is something that facilitates a reaction, but is not consumed by it. Therefore it is only needed in very small quantities.)

  10. How freaking amazing was the “Salud” episode!  I needed a cigarette after it.  “Breaking Bad” is the one show where each successive season just keeps getting better.  The writing, the plot line, the actors.  THE ACTORS!!!!!!!!!!!!  Have you ever seen a tighter ensemble anywhere?  Who is Vince Gilligan?

    Truly amazing.  Also, what’s with the preschool theme of the cook bins in this lab?

  11. The bags on the palates are Psuedoephedrine, and you can tell from the brown/green color in  that igloo cooler (reaction vessel) that they are using the old Psuedo+Hydroiodic acid/Red Phosphorus route. 

    And contrary to what you see on Breaking Bad, it doesnt take a million dollar lab to make 99.99% pure methamphetamine.  With Walters skill on the show he should be synthesizing LSD.  

  12. C’mon you geeks, doesn’t anybody notice the pixelated camouflage pattern on that truck. All I could think of is niiiice!

  13. Legalize the shit and let the tweakers commit suicide doing it cheap.   The real issue is that by making drugs illegal, there has become an incredible profit motive built into the making and distribution of such.   And one of the biggest problems is that doing drugs like meth and crack is the only thing too many people have to look forward to in this day and age.   Got something more enticing or exciting for the masses?   Let’s see it.  For the addicts, drugs are the only things worth living for…and I mean that in all irony…

  14. The items seized at the site include large quantities of tartaric acid and lead acetate. This is a practical large scale industrial route: phenylacetic acid when distilled with lead acetate gives 1-phenylpropan-2-one, which is then reacted with methylamine hydrochloride in a reducing environment to give dl-methamphetamine. The tartaric acid is likely the enantiopure version, which will selectively crystallize with one of the isomers of methamphetamine allowing the separation of the other. 

    Only the enantiomerically pure compound will form the large glass like crystals we all know as crystal methamphetamine, and only the D isomers is a strong stimulant. This method makes sense on a large scale because many of these reagents and side products can be recycled  (interestingly enough, the “blue color in street meth is a visual artifact created by the small crystal size and structure of racemic and therefore poor quality methamphetamine). The cost of this method is larger up front because the yields of any given batch will likely only approach 30-40 percent theoretical, but recycling will raise yields to around 80 percent or better for a given set of material inputs.

    I estimate based on the photos that this lab was likely producing high grade d-meth at a rate of over 100 kilograms per day.

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