How to extract ephedrine from cattails


  • The incredible cattail — The super Wal-Mart of the swamp
  • This is a Cattail
  • The Wild Shrub at the Root of the Afghan Meth Epidemic
  • He is searching for Ephedra sinica, a hardy, sage-colored shrub that grows abundantly across central and northern Afghanistan. The plant contains a naturally-occurring stimulant called ephedrine — the synthetic version of which is a common ingredient in decongestants and weight loss pills, and is often used to make crystal methamphetamine. Related Using Medication to Overcome Addiction That characteristic has made ephedrine-containing medications tightly controlled in North America and Europe.

    Even in Afghanistan, which has no such restrictions, it is difficult for drug producers to obtain enough of the chemical for the large-scale production of crystal meth. For them, the ephedra plant has been a game-changer, providing a cheap, local, and naturally abundant source of ephedrine. Early on, this development garnered little sustained attention, either from law enforcement or international drug experts.

    As he strides along the slope, Rehman points out that there are no small or freshly chopped ephedra shrubs here, suggesting they have not been harvested on any significant scale. An Ephedra sinica plant in the Surobi District in eastern Afghanistan. Unemployed men smoke crystal methamphetamine under a bridge in Fayzabad, in the northern province of Badakhshan. The bags overflow with herbs, spices, and natural remedies from every corner of Afghanistan and abroad.

    Mardan reaches into one and draws out a handful of small, dried ephedra branches, each one the size of a toothpick. The shrub, he says, is a mainstay of many local medicine cabinets, with customers brewing the dried branches into a tea to use for the treatment of maladies like kidney stones, congestion, urinary tract infections, and low blood pressure. Gijinder Singh, a third-generation herbalist who operates a shop in Kabul.

    Some of that isolation can be attributed to how crystal meth is made. Aside from the key ingredient of ephedrine or a related chemical called pseudoephedrine, meth production only requires a handful of common chemicals, including red phosphorus and, often, iodine.

    With the requisite knowledge, a small meth lab can be built with nothing more than some simple kitchen glassware and a gas burner. In the U. But even with an unregulated supply, says Mansfield, the price of obtaining large amounts of ephedrine-containing medicine is still prohibitively high for Afghan meth producers, some of whom reportedly have suffered losses when using this method.

    Ali Mardan, a wholesaler of Ephedra sinica in Kabul. How local producers learned to process the plant and isolate the ephedrine is harder to discern.

    According to Mansfield, both Iran and China are possible points of origin for the know-how. One possible theory, he says, is that Iranian meth producers passed their knowledge on to Afghan counterparts to skirt a crackdown on meth production in Iran in the mids, allowing these Iranian producers to maintain a steady supply of the drug.

    But following the genesis of the knowledge in Afghanistan is not easy. Regardless of how knowledge of the plant and its use made its way to Afghanistan, Mansfield says that it has significantly reduced the barriers to entry for making methamphetamine in the country, and ephedra has transformed local economies in the regions where it is grown and sold.

    Once the ephedra lands in these district centers, often outside areas of Afghan government control, it is milled to a fine powder and sold in bulk quantities at open-air markets that have sprung up with the express purpose of providing supplies to local meth-producers. Mansfield notes the extent to which meth lab operators have become versed in the subtle art of ephedrine extraction. In nearby potential markets of the Middle East, this street value is orders of magnitude higher according to research conducted by the UNODC.

    Prices in the markets of Central Europe are lower due to the prevalence of methamphetamine manufacturers in the region, but even here street prices far outstrip those for the same drug sold within Afghanistan. Once a meth lab owner has purchased the ephedra from the market, extracting the pure ephedrine is fairly straightforward. The whitish powder is soaked in large plastic drums filled with water, allowing the ephedrine to naturally separate from the plant fibers.

    The cooks then strain the green, gooey liquid multiple times to remove the remaining plant matter. The strained liquid is then evaporated, leaving behind the ephedrine solids as a powder.

    From here, the meth is cooked in the same way as it would be had the ephedrine come from any other source. The sheer natural abundance of ephedra in Afghanistan appears to be allowing meth labs to increase production, while also lowering production costs.

    Mansfield says his team has recently uncovered evidence from satellite imagery of purpose-built soak ponds — large, concrete vats constructed adjacent to the main lab building — enabling producers to process larger quantities of ephedra at a time.

    Another uncertainty is on the demand side. Thanks to a lack of research and data, the true scope of the meth problem in Afghanistan is hard to quantify, says Martin Raithelhuber, a synthetic drug expert with the UNODC.

    However the drug arrived, in recent years meth use has seen an explosion in popularity in Afghanistan in part thanks to the lowered production costs of using the ephedra plant. According to statistics gathered by Afghan government counter-narcotics forces, seizures of crystal meth increased dramatically from to The few drug rehabilitation facilities that exist in Kabul have seen surges in meth-related cases and the UNODC reports that many people who use now suffer from concurrent addictions to both heroin and meth.

    Soaring unemployment rates may also be driving demand for the drug. A Gallup poll revealed that 30 percent of the Afghan workforce is unemployed , the highest rate ever recorded in the country. The experience of Gul Muhammad, 45, illustrates the common pattern for many Afghans who are out of work. Muhammad says he became addicted to meth after he migrated to Iran to work as a day laborer. Crystal meth allowed him to work longer hours in a physically demanding construction job, with seemingly little strain.

    You can work from early morning to late at night and not even realize that the day has passed. The hours seem to disappear. In response, some locals are trying to build support networks. One example is Abdur Raheem Rejaey, the director of Bridge, a small Afghan nonprofit that provides free medical care, clean needles, and psychological support for people with addiction to drugs living on the streets of Kabul.

    Raheem used to use drugs himself. Like many others, he first became addicted during his time as a day laborer in Iran, and he has seen firsthand the effects that meth can have, not just on the body but on the mind.

    To Raheem, the addictive and destructive effects of these drugs are clear. By the time many began to realize the devastating physical and psychological effects of this new drug, it was already too late. Drug abuse is highly stigmatized, and the number of local and government organizations offering help and treatment is limited. There are only five drug treatment centers in Kabul, and, Raheem says, targeted treatment for crystal meth addiction is nonexistent. The widespread appeal of the drug may be due, in part, to stress from the ongoing war in the country.

    According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan UNAMA , 3, civilians were killed and 6, injured in the conflict in , the sixth straight year that civilian casualties surpassed 10, Other factors are also at play. Amin says that a widespread lack of mental health support for Afghans leads many in difficult situations to become even more susceptible to drug addiction.

    Still, there have been hints of change. According to Khalid Mowahid, a spokesman for the Counter Narcotics Justice Center, an Afghan government body in charge of prosecuting large drug cases within Afghanistan, the move indicates an admission by law enforcement that previous laws were out of touch with the severity of the synthetic drug problem in Afghanistan.

    American forces have also ratcheted up the pressure on illicit drug producers in Afghanistan. On May 6, , U. American forces have also started to use the large, telltale ephedra soak ponds to help identify labs for strikes. But despite the destruction of numerous labs and the associated casualties — at least 60 civilians may have been killed in the airstrikes according to UNAMA investigators, a finding disputed by the U. There are some indications that the Afghan government is starting to acknowledge the increasing significance of the ephedra plant to the domestic meth industry.

    In October , the Afghan ministers for health and counter-narcotics submitted a bill to the National Assembly proposing a nationwide ban on the harvest and use of ephedra. An official at the health ministry did not respond to questions regarding a timeframe for implementation of the bill. Back in Surobi, Rehman, the Afghan government scientist, scrambles back down the slope to his car, a large bunch of ephedra branches in hand. He will take them back to his lab to test how potent the ephedra in the region is; the higher the ephedrine content, the more alluring the plant is for drug manufacturers.

    A boy — not yet one year old — raised in a one-room home by two generations of family members with meth addiction. For now, the only ephedra harvesting done here is by the odd local looking for small amounts to use as kindling or medicine, says Rehman.

    We already face so many issues in Afghanistan. The creation of cheaper, more destructive drugs is not something we should allow to be added to that pile.

    By Kevin F. This wonderful plant is a virtual gold mine of survival utility. It is a four-season food, medicinal, and utility plant. What other plant can boast eight food products, three medicinals, and at least 12 other functional uses? While living in Northern Japan, I spent many chilly mornings in snow storms among miles of cattails while duck hunting.

    Cattail is a member of the grass family, Gramineae, as are rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley, and rye, just to mention a few. Of the 15 most commonly consumed domesticated plant foods, 10 are grasses. However, of more than wild grasses, none holds a loftier position as a survival food than cattail. Just about any place you can find year-round standing water or wet soil, you can usually find cattails. There are some poisonous look-alikes that may be mistaken for cattail, but none of these look-alikes possess the brown seed head.

    Cattail, Common and Narrow-leaf Blue Flag Iris versicolor and Yellow Flag Iris pseudoacorus and other members of the iris family all possess the cattail-like leaves, but none possesses the brown seed head. All members of the Iris family are poisonous. Another look-alike which is not poisonous, but whose leaves look more like cattail than iris is the Sweet Flag Acorus calumus. Sweet Flag has a very pleasant spicy, sweet aroma when the leaves are bruised. It also does not posses the brown seed head.

    Neither the irises nor cattail has the sweet, spicy aroma. I have seen large stands of cattails and sweet flag growing side by side. As with all wild edibles, positive identification is essential.

    If you are not sure, do not eat it. Corms, shoots, and spikes In just about any survival situation, whether self-imposed or not, one of the first plants I look for is the cattail. As a food plant, cattails are outstanding and offer a variety of food products according to the season. In early spring, dig up the roots to locate the small pointed shoots called corms. These can be removed, peeled, and eaten, added to other spring greens for a salad, or cooked in stews or alone as a pot herb.

    As the plant growth progresses to where the shoots reach a height of two to three feet above the water, peel and eat like the corms, or sautee. In late spring to early summer, some of my favorite food products come into fruition on the cattail.

    Soon after these shoots become available, the green female bloom spikes and the male pollen spikes begin to emerge. Peel back the leaves in the same way you would shuck corn, and both the male portion above and the female below can be seen. The male portion will atrophy into a small dried twig that may easily break off the top of the seed head.

    Both the male and female pollen spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob, and both are delicious. The male portion provides a bigger meal at this stage. They have a flavor that is corn-like, but distinct from corn. I cannot imagine anyone finding the flavor objectionable. Both may also be eaten raw. Pollen and root starch Later, the male pollen head will begin to develop an abundance of yellow pollen with a talcum powder consistency that can easily be shaken off into any container.

    Several pounds of this can be collected in less than an hour. The traditional use of this pollen is to substitute for some the flour in pancakes to make cattail pancakes. This also works well with cornbread.

    Other uses of the pollen include thickeners or flour extenders for breads, cakes, etc. Cooked male and female pollen and bloom spikes In late summer to early fall, the tender inner portions of the leaf stalk may still be collected, but the availability of this Cossack Asparagus begins to dwindle, due to the toughening up of the plant. During this period and all the way to spring, the most abundant food product, the root starch, may be harvested. The chief investigator of the project was Leland Marsh.

    The reported results were as follows: Yields are fantastic. Marsh discovered he could harvest tons of rhizomes per acre near Wolcott, NY. That represents something more than 10 times the average yield per acre of potatoes. In terms of dry weight of cattail flour, the tons of roots would yield approximately 32 tons.

    To extract the flour or starch from the cattail root, simply collect the roots, wash, and peel them. Next, break up the roots under water. The flour will begin to separate from the fibers. Continue this process until the fibers are all separated and the sweet flour is removed.

    Remove the fiber and pour off the excess water. Allow the remaining flour slurry to dry by placing near a fire or using the sun. Cattail root flour also contains gluten. Gluten is the constituent in wheat flour that allows flour to rise in yeast breads.

    The Iroquois Indians macerated and boiled the roots to produce a fine syrup, which they used in a corn meal pudding and to sweeten other dishes. Some Indians burned the mature brown seed heads to extract the small seeds from the fluff, which was used to make gruels and added to soups.

    Medicinal and other uses The medicinal uses of cattails include poultices made from the split and bruised roots that can be applied to cuts, Yellow Flag, a poisonous cattail look-alike.

    None of the look-alikes has the characteristic brown seed head. The ash of the burned cattail leaves can be used as an antiseptic or styptic for wounds. A small drop of a honey-like excretion, often found near the base of the plant, can be used as an antiseptic for small wounds and toothaches.

    The utility of this cattail is limited only by your imagination. The dried stalks can be used for hand drills and arrow shafts. The seed heads and dried leaves can be used as tinder. The seed head fluff can be used for pillow and bedding stuffing or as a down-like insulation in clothing.

    The leaves can be used for construction of shelters or for woven seats and backs of chairs, which has been a traditional use for hundreds of years. They can be woven into baskets, hats, mats, and beds. The dried seed heads attached to their stalks can be dipped into melted animal fat or oil and used as torches. Sources 1. Gibbons, Euell, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Alan C. Hood and Company, Putney, Vermont; Harris, B.

    Barre Publishers, Garre, MA;

    In nearby potential markets of the Middle East, this street value is orders of magnitude higher according to research conducted by the UNODC. Prices in the markets of Central Europe are lower due to the prevalence of methamphetamine manufacturers in the region, but even here street prices far outstrip those for the same drug sold within Afghanistan.

    Once a meth lab owner has purchased the ephedra from the market, extracting the pure ephedrine is fairly straightforward. The whitish powder is soaked in large plastic drums filled with water, allowing the ephedrine to naturally separate from the plant fibers. The cooks then strain the green, gooey liquid multiple times to remove the remaining plant matter.

    The strained liquid is then evaporated, leaving behind the ephedrine solids as a powder. From here, the meth is cooked in the same way as it would be had the ephedrine come from any other source. The sheer natural abundance of ephedra in Afghanistan appears to be allowing meth labs to increase production, while also lowering production costs.

    Mansfield says his team has recently uncovered evidence from satellite imagery of purpose-built soak ponds — large, concrete vats constructed adjacent to the main lab building — enabling producers to process larger quantities of ephedra at a time. Another uncertainty is on the demand side. Thanks to a lack of research and data, the true scope of the meth problem in Afghanistan is hard to quantify, says Martin Raithelhuber, a synthetic drug expert with the UNODC. However the drug arrived, in recent years meth use has seen an explosion in popularity in Afghanistan in part thanks to the lowered production costs of using the ephedra plant.

    The incredible cattail — The super Wal-Mart of the swamp

    According to statistics gathered by Afghan government counter-narcotics forces, seizures of crystal meth increased dramatically from to The few drug rehabilitation facilities that exist in Kabul have seen surges in meth-related cases and the UNODC reports that many people who use now suffer from concurrent addictions to both heroin and meth.

    Soaring unemployment rates may also be driving demand for the drug. A Gallup poll revealed that 30 percent of the Afghan workforce is unemployedthe highest rate ever recorded in the country. The experience of Gul Muhammad, 45, illustrates the common pattern for many Afghans who are out of work. Muhammad says he became addicted to meth after he migrated to Iran to work as a day laborer. Crystal meth allowed him to work longer hours in a physically demanding construction job, with seemingly little strain.

    You can work from early morning to late at night and not even realize that the day has passed. The hours seem to disappear. In response, some locals are trying to build support networks. One example is Abdur Raheem Rejaey, the director of Bridge, a small Afghan nonprofit that provides free medical care, clean needles, and psychological support for people with addiction to drugs living on the streets of Kabul.

    Raheem used to use drugs himself. Like many others, he first became addicted during his time as a day laborer in Iran, and he has seen firsthand the effects that meth can have, not just on the body but on the mind. To Raheem, the addictive and destructive effects of these drugs are clear. By the time many began to realize the devastating physical and psychological effects of this new drug, it was already too late. Drug abuse is highly stigmatized, and the number of local and government organizations offering help and treatment is limited.

    There are only five drug treatment centers in Kabul, and, Raheem says, targeted treatment for crystal meth addiction is nonexistent. The widespread appeal of the drug may be due, in part, to stress from the ongoing war in the country.

    According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan UNAMA3, civilians were killed and 6, injured in the conflict inthe sixth straight year that civilian casualties surpassed 10, Other factors are also at play. Amin says that a widespread lack of mental health support for Afghans leads many in difficult situations to become even more susceptible to drug addiction. Still, there have been hints of change.

    According to Khalid Mowahid, a spokesman for the Counter Narcotics Justice Center, an Afghan government body in charge of prosecuting large drug cases within Afghanistan, the move indicates an admission by law enforcement that previous laws were out of touch with the severity of the synthetic drug problem in Afghanistan.

    This is a Cattail

    American forces have also ratcheted up the pressure on illicit drug producers in Afghanistan. On May 6,U. Typha plants grow along lake margins and in marshes, often in dense colonies, and are sometimes considered a weed in managed wetlands. When the islands fell to the Japanese, our kapok supply was cut off. It was then that a Chicago company began to substitute cattail cotton in furniture cushions and baseballs. Soon afterward, the Navy decided to look into the possibility of using the fuzzy heads of the aquatic weed in life belts and aviation jackets.

    Other Uses For Cattails Native American tribes used cattail down to line moccasins and papoose boards. They also harvested cattails for hemp. They also wove cattail leaves into waterproof mats for the sides of their lodges, and sleeping mats on their travels. Some Indians made jelly from the rootstocks and they can be used for marmalade. The pollen, which is very abundant and rich in vitamins and minerals, was harvested and used in bread by American Indians.

    Pioneers employed the down when stuffing quilts and dolls, dressing wounds, and providing tinder for fires sparked by flint and steel.

    The Wild Shrub at the Root of the Afghan Meth Epidemic

    Compressed into wallboard, cattail down makes excellent insulation against sound and heat. Before the war Germans used boards made of compressed cattail fibers in construction. A drying oil similar to linseed, a cooking oil and a wax can be extracted from the seeds, leaving a by-product of meal which is used in cattle and chicken feeds.

    In Japan, cattails are often used by Japanese to tease and rub cats, as is often seen in manga and anime. For centuries, cattail leaves have been used to caulk barrels, and twisted or braided into cords for making rush-bottomed furniture.

    Soft fibers, extracted from the leaves and stems by treating them chemically, can be used like jute for stuffing furniture and making twine, burlap or webbing.

    A stickly substance extracted from the stems may have value as an adhesive for paper, as sizing, or in favial and shaving creams. Edible Uses The rhizomes are a palatable, nutritious and productive root vegetable, generally harvested in the fall and winter. The pollen is also sometimes used as a flour supplement, and the young green flowering stalks can be boiled and eaten like sweetcorn.


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