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Signs Of A Meth Lab | How To Recognize When Someone Is Cooking Meth

Published on January 15, 2021
How To Recognize A Meth Lab And What Should You Do If You Identify A Meth Lab?

Since the passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, methamphetamine production in the United States has dramatically fallen, with reported incidents declining over 80% from 2010 to 2017. 

These days, the vast majority of crystal meth in the US is created south of the border and smuggled in.

However, meth houses and labs do still operate under the radar in the United States, and properly recognizing and reporting these labs can help save lives and keep you and your community safe.

How Is Meth Made?

Meth labs start with legal cold medications like pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. By way of chemical reactions, the active ingredients in these medications are extracted and converted into methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine production and meth recipes vary from source to source, but generally involve a variety of dangerous compounds and toxic chemicals, which may include:

  • acetone, a flammable liquid found in nail polish remover and paint thinner
  • antifreeze, used in car radiators
  • anhydrous ammonia, found in household cleaners and fertilizer 
  • ether, a pleasant-smelling anesthetic and solvent that is very flammable
  • freon, used in old-model air conditioners and refrigerators
  • hydrochloric acid, a potent corrosive acid used in chemistry and also secreted by your stomach for digestion
  • lithium, an explosive material used in battery acid that can burn skin on contact and may explode
  • red phosphorus, a highly flammable compound found in road flares and explosives
  • toluene, a corrosive liquid used in brake fluid that can dissolve rubber
  • sodium hydroxide, also called lye, which is used to dissolve animal flesh and is exceedingly corrosive
  • sulfuric acid, another potent and corrosive acid which is used in drain cleaners

Meth Lab Paraphernalia

If you notice any of the compounds listed above stockpiled in suspicious quantities, it’s a good indication that meth production may be underway.

Other common, telltale equipment involved in cooking meth may include:

  • propane tanks with fittings coated in blue or green residue
  • red-stained coffee filters or cloth
  • plastic containers or bottles with puncture marks or attached hoses
  • rubber gloves and respiratory masks
  • glass chemistry equipment, often jerry-rigged with duct tape and kept with cookware or pans, with traces of white residue

Learn about the emerging Shake And Bake Method Of Meth Production

Signs Of A Meth Lab

Meth labs come in all shapes and sizes and may be run-down or well maintained and disguised. But, once again, there are common, telltale signs to watch for:

  • signs, barriers, or security measures put up against trespassing
  • obscured windows, doors, and other openings
  • strong chemical odors or urine odors
  • open ventilation in odd conditions for dealing with fumes and vapors from cooking
  • toxic waste dumped outside, leaving burned or dead areas
  • frequent visitors at odd hours, especially during the night

Strange Behavior

Meth producers often struggle with meth addiction and may display certain telling behaviors. 

Strange behaviors associated with meth use can include:

  • unfriendliness and paranoia
  • outdoor smoking, to prevent an explosion or fire
  • carrying or driving garbage away to be disposed of in other locations
  • excessive garbage removal
  • rarely leaving the house for any typical activities
  • lack of employment, but enough money to pay bills or indulge in splurge purchases
  • significant night or early morning activity
  • ongoing health problems and physical or mental deterioration

Meth Lab Explosions & Other Hazards

Cooking meth is a toxic and dangerous process, and it’s no surprise that explosions, fires, and poisonings are common in meth houses and in the area around them.

Animals may sicken and die due to waste exposure, explosions can destroy entire structures or set fire to the homes nearby, and meth cooks (and their children or dependents) may be poisoned, horribly burned, disfigured, or otherwise harmed as well.

Even micro-batch shake and bake meth production can result in permanent physical harm and death if something goes wrong in the process.

What Should You Do If You Identify A Meth Lab?

First, leave and decontaminate any exposed skin or clothing.

Toxic byproducts can easily transfer within a meth lab, and meth cooks and their customers may be aggressive or violent if challenged, especially if they have been taking the drug themselves.

Instead, document your evidence and call the police and your local health department. Special elements of local law enforcement are trained to break up drug labs, and qualified remediation professionals are equipped to provide decontamination services and safely clean up the area in the aftermath.

Help For Meth Abuse

Meth is a powerfully addictive drug that changes the brain, personality, and priorities of those who use it. But while recovery from methamphetamine addiction and the drug’s harmful health effects is challenging, it is possible.

Highly qualified, compassionate rehabilitation specialists can help you or your loved ones detox and navigate the symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal before working towards long-term recovery.

To learn more about our substance use disorder treatment programs, contact Ark Behavioral Health today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Environmental Protection Agency - Voluntary Guidelines for Methamphetamine Laboratory Cleanup
National Drug Intelligence Center - Methamphetamine Laboratory Identification and Hazards Fast Facts
National Institute on Drug Abuse - How is methamphetamine manufactured?

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