2 Chemistry Professors Arrested for Having a Common Chemical. Were They Making Meth? | American Council on Science and Health

2022-06-25 06:45:47 By : Ms. Tracy Yao

Two Arkansas chemistry professors are either: a) a couple of morons, or b) extremely unlucky.

There is just not enough information in the news to tell which of the above is true. The coverage is all over the place. For example:

Subtle marketing at its finest. Photo: Fox News

But now we finally have some information and it bespeaks poorly of the chemical acumen of Bradley Allen Rowland and Terry David Bateman, the two men who were charged with meth making. Because if you're trying to hide a chemical benzyl chloride is a really bad choice. It has a sweet, cloying and choking odor that is unmistakable. It would be difficult to come up with a worse chemical to try to hide. Why not just do this?

Time for a little meth chemistry. No need to call the DEA. I've written about it before. And it's hardly as if this information is a state secret. There's a website that gives you 20 different procedures to make meth from a wide variety of chemicals. One of the chemicals that is found repeatedly on the site is called benzyl cyanide aka, phenylacetonitrile. 

If the cops found benzyl cyanide in the lab then that might be a serious cause for suspicion. Likewise, if they found a bottle of sodium cyanide sitting around with the benzyl chloride because the following reaction is a piece of cake:

So, the presence of either benzyl chloride plus sodium cyanide, or of benzyl cyanide makes things a bit more interesting. This is because another common reagent, methylmagnesium chloride, reacts with it to form phenyl-2-propanone, aka P2P or phenylacetone. 

If any P2P was found then things will not end well for Rowland and Bateman. Because there is pretty much only one reason that phenylacetone exists – to make meth. And it's very easy. Its called the P2P method.

The P2P method was what Walter White switched to because it is far easier to make meth this way than by synthesizing it from a bazillion Sudafed pills – now a controlled drug that is behind the counter. And in true government fashion, this backfired. Once the geniuses at the DEA decided to designate Sudafed as a controlled substance the P2P method was also adapted by meth cookers in Columbia. The net result: more and purer meth hit the streets and people with allergies had to provide ID to buy it. Typical US drug policy.

So, is there enough evidence to put Rowland and Bateman in the slammer for a long time? The chemistry will tell.

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.


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