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Message-ID: <>
Newsgroups: alt.drugs.chemistry
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 1995 12:48:49 UTC
Subject: A Cautionary Tale

 A Cautionary Tale.
     Apologies for such a long posting, but I think this story is of interest 
and relevant to this group.

     The following story is mostly precis'd from Chemistry in Britain, a journal
not likely to be familiar to most of the people who post to this group (being 

     A chemist in the UK was recently cleared and released after 18 months in
goal, for manufacture of 1.5 kg of MDMA.  The chemist in question, who described 
himself as a freelance formulator, had been commissioned to develop a new  
domestic deodorant.  For some reason he thought that  3,4  
methylenedioxyphenyl-N-methyl propylamine (MDMPA) might do.

    Although he could find no published synthesis, he thought that the compound
could be made from saffrole by the same route as MDMA can be made from
iso-saffrole.   Previously, he had tried isomerisation of saffrole to
iso-saffrole for another client, which had apparently failed. In that case
he had tested the product using the classic text, Fiegel's 'Spot Tests which 
showed -ve for iso-saffrole and +ve for saffrole.

    Following Shulgin's PHIKAL route for MDMA, and using the the saffrole he
already had in stock from the failed isomerisation, he kept forceing the
reaction, apparently with some success.
    At this point he was raided, arrested  and charged with manufacture of MDMA.
Forensic tests (using NMR) showed beyond doubt that he had made MDMA. Finally, 
his solicitor contacted a professor at Essex University, who tested the saffrole 
feedstock with NMR and showed that our hero's isomerisation had indeed worked 
after all, the material was 70% iso-saffrole and 30% saffrole and STILL tested 
-ve for iso-saffrole on the standard Fiegel's Test.  This test in fact, was so 
unreliable that it gave a  -ve for iso-saffrole, even when pure iso-saffrole was 
tested!   The Appeal Court agreed, the cops wept and the chemist was released 
albeit without compensation or the return of his equipment.

    The professor commented "It was basically a combination of a lack of
sophisticated equipment and an inexperienced person trying to do sophisticated 
chemistry. ...(he)... was working in such an ill-prepared laboratory that the 
only tests he could do were things like melting point, boiling point and 

     Now, you can draw several morals from this tale, depending on your
inclination, but it seems to me that one moral is very clear viz. chemistry
a'int cookery, there is no such thing as a 'foolproof' synthesis.  Although
our illustrious predecessors did wonderful things without them, modern tools
like NMR etc. make life very easy (have you ever tried to identify a compound 
especially an impure one, with m.p., b.p., optical rotation, elemental analysis 
etc?)  If you can't read an NMR spectrum (or you don't have an NMR machine in 
your kitchen) then you shouldn't try doing experimental chemistry.  If you 
insist on trying, then don't experiment with the results on your friends.

    A second point (which any real chemist knows only too well) is that the
published 'experts' are quite often mistaken.  If you don't know enough
to know when to doubt the textbooks, then you shouldn't be messing with
what you don't understand. 

    I'm sorry if this disappoints all you aspiring criminals.  If there
really was a simple, foolproof way to make MDMA, then there wouldn't
be so much crap being sold as E.

 I hope this is of interest to some of you at least; there is far too much
trivial rubbish on the Net as it is, so I don't want to add to it.  I've
lurked here for a few months now and felt guilty for not making any
contribution.  Anyone running a mail-list for a.d.c or closely related
matters, I'd appreciate being informed about it.

 "Please don't dominate the rap, Jack,  if you got nothing new to say.
If you'll please get back up the track, this train's got to run today."