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Sci.chem FAQ - Part 3 of 7
Section - 13. Illicit and Government Controlled Substances

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Top Document: Sci.chem FAQ - Part 3 of 7
Previous Document: 12. Nomenclature
Next Document: 14. Academic Course Information
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Contributed by : Yogi Shan 
## <>
[ mutilated by Bruce Hamilton, who agrees with what Yogi has written, but
  has tried to make the FAQ format consistent, and added his opinion. ]

13.1  What newsgroups/mailing lists discuss illegal drugs?

Current Usenet Newsgroups:
    alt.drugs.* ( 18 different groups including a.d.c )
#   rec.drugs.announce
#   rec.drugs.cannabis   
#   rec.drugs.misc
#   rec.drugs.psychedelic

Mailing lists:
      To subscribe, send mail to with the message:
      SUBSCRIBE mdma <your name>
      Leri-L (Leri-L Metaprogramming Mail Service)
   TTIL is a moderated mailing list whose purpose is the respectful
      discussion of Psychedelic Religion.
      To subscribe send email to: and put in the body 
      of the message:  subscribe ttil <your email address>

There are several useful FAQs available in alt.drugs - start there with
Yogi's Clandestine Chemistry FAQ. Comprehensive overviews of illicit drug 
information available on the Internet are maintained at several sites, eg 

13.2  Where can I obtain a list of illegal drugs?

From the "Law" Section of the "alt.drugs Clandestine Chemistry Primer/FAQ"
by Yogi Shan (, reproduced by permission:
   The drug statutes (possession, conspiracy, and sale), including Schedules 
   I to V of the Controlled Substances Act (listing all banned and federally 
   regulated drugs and precursors) are in Title 21 [of the United States
   Code] Sections 800-900 (21 USC 800-900).

   The US Code is available on the Internet:
   or as gzip compressed files (by Title):

   A current list of proscribed drugs may be obtained by writing to:
                 Drug Enforcement Administration
                 Attn: Drug Control Section
                 1405 "I" Street, N.W.
                 Washington, D.C.  20537

13.3  What is the chemical structure of common illegal drugs?

See the Merck Index for the chemical structure of your favourite poison. 
Heilbron ( aka "Dictionary of Organic Compounds ), a multi-volume set, 
is also excellent, and more up to date, though less commonly available.
Serious structure chasers should also check Beilstein, which often provides
far more detail of properties and structure than Merck or Heilbron. 

13.4  How do I obtain chemical information on illegal drugs?

Merck, Heilbron and Beilstein all provide information on drugs that have
a significant presence in the market. Lesser-known homebake and analogues 
are usually not covered, and a search of Chemical Abstracts may not even
provide information. Because of the various techniques used to "refine" 
and "cut" the active ingredients, most illegal drugs are seldom 
sufficiently pure to match published data. The drugs are marketed on their
pharmacological and psychological activity, rather than chemical purity 
- similar to vitamin units of activity :-).  I suggest you start by reading
the various alt.drugs FAQs - they all list hardcopy references, and if they 
do not identify an information source, try posting to alt.drugs or rec.drugs.
13.5  Where are the synthesis instructions for illegal drugs?

By asking the question in sci.chem, you already have signalled your level 
of knowledge of illicit chemistry discussions on Usenet. You should be in 
alt.drugs.* hierarchy and perhaps other groups in section 13.1 :-).

For the short answer, refer to Merck, Heilbron or Beilstein, they will
provide references to the original synthesis papers. Note that large scale 
production techniques often use procedures that were developed later, and 
street procedures often are significantly different, usually due to 
financial, equipment, or chemical feedstock constraints.

For the long answers, see the "alt.drugs Clandestine Chemistry Primer/FAQ"
by Yogi Shan (, and visit some sites listed in the Network
Resources FAQ available in alt.drugs. For a fairly comprehensive overview,
( but no warranty implied for info available there ), you could start at:

An interesting article on the link between methylenedioxymethamphetamine
( MDMA, ecstasy, XTC, Adam ) illegal synthesis and the sassafras tree is
available [1].  

13.6  Should I post detailed recipes for illegal chemicals?

Well, if you do a lot of people will hate you. On the other hand many people 
will love you. Of course, most people won't care one way or another.  
Or maybe they'll just roll their eyes back, mumble something about 
"dissipated/mis-spent youth", and hit the "next" button.

Posting them to sci.chem means you will be attempting to teach grandmother 
how to suck eggs, most regulars of sci.chem *know* where to find the 
complete instructions, how to perform the synthesis, and have authorised 
access to all the equipment and chemicals. The readers of sci.chem are 
probably not your target audience, and may be a little annoyed that you had 
such a low opinion of their chemistry abilities. If you do not want a
lot of flames, try posting to the groups in section 13.1, they will probably
appreciate your contribution more, but will still flame you if it is wrong.

This is Usenet, do what you want as long as you think you can get away with 
it. And don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't. It's a truism on 
Usenet that whatever you do, someone's going to be mad at you. For every 
anarchistic Free Spirit (TM), there's going to be at least one anal-retentive 
busy-body who has nothing better to do that feign outrage at something or 
other. Some idiot in Australia even had the nerve to flame me for posting my 
Clandestine Chemistry FAQ to sci.chem, and I think drugs are terrible, and 
said so. So go figure.

The only caveat to this is that posting mis-information, or information
that you personally do not understand, is likely to result in a lot of 
flames. If you attempt to post anonymously to sci.chem, it is likely that 
you will encounter far more opposition than if you use your email address. 
As with all of Usenet, posters who sign their names to posts will be held 
accountable for the content, so posting obviously incorrect or incomplete 
syntheses to a group where knowledgeable chemists hang out is more likely to 
harm your credibility. Your posts are unlikely to gain you further knowledge 
of the synthesis, because if you post incorrect details, readers will be 
pointed to the more accurate Clandestine Chemistry FAQ, and also directed to 
the groups in section 13.1 to find the latest details.

In the late 1980s, and early 1990s a poster began to post all the detailed
synthesis methods from Pihkal to sci.chem. "Pihkal" is Alexander and Ann 
Shulgin's standard text " Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved [2a]", which
has recently been supplemented with "Tihkal" ( Tryptamines I have Known and 
Loved ) [2b].

From vague memory, the poster was just listing the recipes, and not entering 
into discussions or responding to questions or comments. There was the usual 
outrage, but I believe he had to stop because of copyright violation of the 
book he was posting - he could not demonstrate to his access provider that 
he had approval from the copyright holder :-). Shulgin has now made Part Two 
of PiKAL freely available, and copies are littered around the Internet, so 
check out the various alt.drugs FAQs for their location.

13.7  What newsgroups/mailing lists discuss explosives?

Rec.pyrotechnics and alt.engr.explosives are two newsgroups that discuss 
explosives, much to the consternation of some subscribers to the former. 
The rec.pyrotechnics FAQ is excellent, and is posted regularly to
rec.pyrotechnics, news.answers, and rec.answers.

There's an "Anarchist Cookbook FAQ" posted semi-regularly to rec.pyrotechnics
and alt.engr.explosives that tells you why the AC is lousy. See also:
    This review goes a little overboard: the mercury fulminate and picric
    acid recipes the he refers to are fine by my estimation.

See also [but no warranty implied for info available on]:

13.8 What is the chemical structure of common explosives?
Exothermic oxidation-reduction reactions are the source of energy, and they
can be produced from mixtures of discrete fuels and oxidisers, or from
molecular decomposition - such as from nitroglycerine. Propellants and 
explosives produce large volumes of gases, whereas pyrotechnics do not.
                                             Gas     Reaction  Ignition 
                                           Volume      Heat   Temperature 
                                           (cm3/g)   (MJ/KG)     (C)
Photoflash (30:40:30 Ba(NO3)2:Al:KClO4)      15       8.989      700  
TNT                                         710       4.560      310
Most explosives are organic compounds or mixtures that contain carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Metallic fuels ( eg aluminium ) may be
added to increase the heat of reaction. Industrial dynamites traditionally
used nitroglycerine, nitrocellulose, and inorganic salts as sources of 
oxygen, but these have been replaced by formulations that use ammonium 
nitrate as the primary oxygen source. Note that the specific energy is 
usually lower than the combustion of common fuels in air because the fuels 
obtain their oxygen from air. 

Many explosive can either burn or detonate, usually depending on the 
type of initiation, confinement, and physical properties of the fuel.
When initiated, burning first occurs at an increasing rate during the first 
few microseconds as it creates a high velocity, high pressure shock wave 
that exothermically decomposes the explosive as it passes. The wave is
sustained by the transfer of energy from the reacted explosive to the 
unreacted explosive via shock compression. The reaction rate depends on
the rate of propagation of the shock wave, rather than the rate of heat
transfer - as occurs during burning.  

Explosives are usually classified into: 
Low Explosives or Propellants
   eg colloidal cellulose nitrate ( smokeless powder ), black powders, 
      gun and rocket propellants.
   - they are usually mixtures of chemical compounds that produce large 
     volumes of high temperatures gases at controllable rates, and do not
     require atmospheric oxygen. Ammonium perchlorate and ammonium nitrate 
     are commonly used as oxidisers.
Initiating or Primary Explosives ( detonators )
   eg lead azide, mercury fulminate, diazodinitrophenol (DDNP).
   - they are used to initiate the next component of an explosive chain, and
     are usually dense, organometallic compounds.
   - these are sensitive materials and fairly dangerous to handle as they
     can be ignited by heat, shock and electrostatic energy.
                                            Lead     Mercury     DDNP
                                            Azide    Fulminate
Density             (g/cm3)                 4.0        4.2       1.60
Heat of Combustion  (MJ/KG)                 2.64       3.93     13.58
Heat of Detonation  (MJ/KG)                 1.54       1.79      3.43 
Gas Volume          (cm3/g at STP)           308        316       876
Detonation Velocity (m/s)                   5100       5400      6900

High or Secondary Explosives
There is a distinction between secondary and high, however many of the
common explosives are considered "secondary high explosives".
   eg cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX), 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT),
      cyclotetramethylenetetranitramine (HMX), ammonium picrate (AP).
"Secondary explosives" include trinitrophenylmethylnitramine (Tetryl),
nitrocellulose (NC) nitroglycerine (NG), pentaerythritol tetranitrate 
(PETN), and nitromethane.  High and secondary explosives require explosive 
shock to initiate their detonation, otherwise they would only burn if 
unconfined or unshocked. 
                               NG      TNT    AP    RDX    HMX   Tetryl
Density             (g/cm3)   1.59    1.65   1.72   1.85   1.90   1.70     
Heat of Combustion  (MJ/KG)   6.80   15.02  12.09   9.46   9.88  12.24
Heat of Detonation  (MJ/KG)   6.29    4.23   4.31   4.54   5.67   4.63  
Gas Volume          (cm3/g)    715     710    680    780    755    760       
Detonation Velocity (m/s)     7600    6940   7050   8570   9160   7920
Detonation Pressure (GPa)      -      18.9     -    33.8   39.3   26.2  

RDX and HMX are substantially desensitized when mixed with TNT or coating 
with polymer/elastomer binders. Most RDX in the USA is converted into 
"Composition B" (59.5:39.5:1 RDX:TNT:Wax)
"A5" (98.5:1.5 RDX:Stearic Acid)  
"C4" (91:5.3:2.1:1.6  RDX:dioctyl sebacate:polyisobutylene:oil).
                                     Amatol                      AN
                                B     80/20   C4    AN   ANFO  Slurry
Density             (g/cm3)   1.72     -     1.64  1.72  0.93   1.40   
Heat of Combustion  (MJ/KG)  11.67    4.19    -    2.62   -      -
Heat of Detonation  (MJ/KG)   5.28    4.10   6.61  2.63  3.76   3.05
Gas Volume          (cm3/g)    -       860    -     980   -      -
Detonation Velocity (m/s)     7900    5200   8340  2700  4560   6050
Detonation Pressure (GPa)     29.5     -     25.7   1.1   6.0   10.4

Note that explosives usually have less potential energy than gasoline, but
it is the high rate of energy release that produces the blast pressure.   
TNT has a detonation velocity of 6,940 m/s compared to 1,680 m/s for the 
detonation of pentane in air, and the 0.34 m/s stoichiometric flame speed 
of gasoline combustion in air.
Other than ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO), most common explosives are 
trinitrated organic compounds. Nitroglycerine (glyceryl nitrate), 
trinitrotoluene (TNT), picric acid, C4 (plasticized RDX/Cyclonite),
and tetryl (2,4,6-trinitrophenylmethylnitramine), fall into this category. 
Refer to Merck or Kirk Othmer for chemical structures of common explosives.

A range of Semtex plastic explosives were produced by the Semtin Glassworks 
in Czechoslovakia ( now known as VCHZ Synthesia ). Semtex-H is commonly used 
by terrorists and, although examples are of variable composition, it 
typically contains approximately 8% oil, 9% rubber, and approximately equal 
quantities of RDX and PETN, but with known composition ranges of >21.5% RDX 
and <64.5% of PETN. [3,4].

ANFO was proposed in 1867, but it was the development of anti-caking agents
in the 1950s that made ANFO suitable for rock blasting. Typical commercial 
ANFO blasting agents consist of 94% ammonium nitrate prills (coated with an 
anti-caking agent) and 6% fuel oil. They are reclassified as blasting 
explosives if the formulation is sensitised by the addition of high 
explosive. ANFO explosives are usually initiated by a high-explosive booster
such as formulation B. Maximum sensitivity to initiation occurs around 2-4%
fuel oil, with the presence of water decreasing sensitivity. The recent bomb 
in Oklahoma City (estimated 1800kg ANFO)[5], demonstrated the destructive 
capacity of ANFO explosives.
There were solubility problems using ANFO in wet drill holes, so aqueous-
based slurries were developed. These are usually thickened suspensions 
dispersed in a saturated salt solution that has been made water resistant
by the addition of hydrophilic colloids that inhibit water migration.
Ammonium nitrate-based explosives account for 97% of the US industrial

The infamous nitrogen tri-iodide ( touch powder ) produced by the reaction
of ammonia with iodine, is not actually NI3, but a nitrogen iodide/ammonia
complex with the structure NI3(NH3)n where n = 1, 3, or 5 - depending on 
conditions. NI3 has only recently been isolated, and is stable at -196C, 
decomposes slowly at -78C, and decomposes spontaneously at 0C [6]. Refer to 
an older inorganic chemistry text, such as "The Chemical Elements and their 
Compounds"[7], for further details and references.

Recently, there has been great interest in the development of more energetic
materials, and several new compounds are expected to replace existing 
materials - once manufacturing costs are reduced. Examples include;- ADN 
(Ammonium Dinitramide - NH4N(NO2)2, used as a propellant by the Soviet Union), 
CL-20 (2,4,6,8,10,12-hexanitro-2,4,6,8,10,12-hexazaisowurtzitane, aka HNIW,
the most powerful single-component explosive known - which, when combined 
with a polymer binder is also known as LX19), and TNAZ 
(1,3,3-trinitroazetidine) [8,9,10].    

13.9  How do I obtain chemical information on common explosives?

There is an excellent, well-referenced "Explosives and Propellants" monograph 
in Kirk Othmer [11] and there are also the popular books "Explosives" by Meyer
[12], and "Chemistry of Powder and Explosives" by Davis [13]. Many of the 
relevant properties of fuels and explosives are found in an easily-accessible 
Bureau of Mines report "Investigations of Fire and Explosion Accidents in the 
Chemical, Mining, and Fuel-Related Industries - A Manual" by J.M.Kuchta [14]. 
There is also the "Propellants, Explosives and Pyrotechnics" journal. Merck 
lists most common, and many uncommon explosives, giving their structure, 
selected properties, and pointers to synthesis and more detailed information. 
Shreve and Kirk Othmer also discuss explosives manufacture.

Tadeusz Urbanski wrote a massive four-volume reference set on explosives
"The Chemistry and Technology of Explosives" [15] that should be available
in any university science library (it's something like US$700 otherwise).
The "Encyclopedia of Explosives and Related Items", aka "PATR 2700" 
(Picatinny Arsenal Technical Report) [16], is a U.S. Army (Picatinny
Arsenal, Dover, NJ), all-encompassing compilation (10 volumes) of 
explosives properties and chemistry.  Like Urbanski, it's also quite 

13.10  What newsgroups/mailing lists discuss pyrotechnics?

rec.pyrotechnics is the "official" newsgroup for fireworks/pyrotechnics
discussions, though many have fled to the mailing lists due to the large 
numbers of juvenile "mad bomber" type posts that abound.

Mark A. Buda < >
  The original rec.pyro exile fireworks list.
  "Mad Bomber" posts forbidden.
The Pyro Mailing List is a "Real" pyrotechnic discussion group moderated by 
   a pyrotechnician.  No mad bombers.
   To subscribe apply to and follow the instructions. 
   One must supply the info and there are reasonable guidelines to follow.
Murr Rhame <> 
   Show-Fire entertainment pyrotechnics mailing list.
   "Mad Bomber" posts forbidden.
   To subscribe send the following one line message to
   subscribe show-fire name@your.address
Ken Harthun <> 
   PyroTechniques, The Newsletter for Pyrotechnic Enthusiasts.  It is FREE 
   for the asking. Just email me with a request to be added to the list. 

See also:

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