Breaking Good: how to synthesize Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) From N-Methylamphetamine (crystal meth)


Photo: Chris Howey / Shutterstock

Genius scientific paper* of the day: "A Simple and Convenient Synthesis of Pseudoephedrine From N-Methylamphetamine, by O. Hai and I. B. Hakkenshit." (PDF).

A response by annoyed Sudafed users to the onerous demands by pharmacies for ID and tracking, due to the fact that this helpful and common over-the-counter drug can be used to manufacture crystal meth.

Snip from the paper:

A novel and straightforward synthesis of pseudoephidrine from readily available N-methylamphetamine is presented. This practical synthesis is expected to be a disruptive technology replacing the need to find an open pharmacy.

Pseudoephedrine, active ingredient of Sudafed®, has long been the most popular nasal decongestant in the United States due to its effectiveness and relatively mild side effects [1]. In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to obtain psuedoephedine in many states because of its use as a precursor for the illegal drug N-methylamphetamine (also known under various names including crystal meth, meth, ice, etc.)[1,2]. While in the past many stores were able to sell pseudoephedrine, new laws in the United States have restricted sales to pharmacies, with the medicine kept behind the counter. The pharmacies require signatures and examination of government issued ID in order to purchase pseudoephedrine. Because the hours of availability of such pharmacies are often limited, it would be of great interest to have a simple synthesis of pseudoephedrine from reagents which can be more readily procured.

A quick search of several neighborhoods of the United States revealed that while pseudoephedrine is difficult to obtain, N-methylamphetamine can be procured at almost any time on short notice and in quantities sufficient for synthesis of useful amounts of the desired material. Moreover, according to government maintained statistics, Nmethylmphetamine is becoming an increasingly attractive starting material for pseudoephedrine, as the availability of Nmethylmphetamine has remained high while prices have dropped and purity has increased [2]. We present here a convenient series of transformations using reagents which can be found in most well stocked organic chemistry laboratories to produce psuedoephedrine from N-methylamphetamine.

(via @ioerror. Images, via Shutterstock: At top, a type of glass pipe commonly used to smoke crystal meth. Inset, N-Methylamphetamine. Below, a LOL, referencing an episode in the first season of meth-themed TV show Breaking Bad, via @yesthatkarim.)

* Note the name of the authors, and that of the journal. It's parody, folks.

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