Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Cambodia’s Ecstasy Trade

April 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Addiction, Ecstasy, Substance Abuse

Cambodia's Ecstasy Trade

The dangers of ecstasy go beyond its risk to users; it can also be toxic to the environment. In southwest Cambodia, the production of oil used to make ecstasy is destroying trees and the livelihoods of local inhabitants.

Sassafras oil, or safrole oil, is the main ingredient in the club drug, ecstasy.  The sassafras oil comes from the Cardamom Mountain area. This is one of the last forest wilderness areas in mainland Southeast Asia, and Cambodia’s ecstasy trade is slowly but surely killing the forests and wildlife. The production of sassafras oil affects not only the areas where the distilleries are actually locates, but destroys the surrounding area as well.

Similar to other illegal drug manufacturing operations such as cocaine and opium, farmers, landholders, workers, and manufacturers who are involved in Cambodia’s ecstasy trade, believe the rewards outweigh the risks. Cambodia is one of Asia’s poorest nations. Up to 26 percent of the population earns less than $1.25 US dollars per day. Rural farmers, in particular, tend to struggle with poverty.

However, while Cambodia’s ecstasy trade can spell financial security for some, it can be disastrous for the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people who depend on hunting and gathering to survive in the wildlife sanctuary.

Ecstasy, or MDMA, is a psychoactive drug with both hallucinogenic and simulative properties. MDMA is a white crystalline salt that produces feelings of euphoria, intimacy, peacefulness, and self-confidence. The chemical is produced through a complex processing of a number of substances including sassafras oil. Ecstasy contains MDMA, but MDMA is also sold by itself, as the street drug “molly.” On average, an ecstasy tablet contains about 10 percent MDMA. Some research suggests that less than 15 percent of ecstasy tablets contain MDMA as the sole active ingredient. Typically, ecstasy is made up of a mixture of substances which can include MDMA, amphetamines, PCP, ketamine or methamphetamine plus binder ingredients such as chalk and glucose.

In an attempt to crack down on Cambodia’s ecstasy trade, the FFI (Fauna and Flora International) and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment raided several illegal sassafras oil factories in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia.

Cambodia’s ecstasy trade depends on harvesting sassafras oil from a type of tree known as the Mreah Prew Phnom. This tree is already very rare and in danger of extinction. Manufacturers require four substantial Mreah Prew Phnom trees to make one 40 gallon barrel of sassafras oil. In addition to these trees, other trees are cut down and used for fuel and housing for the workers. Workers also frequently poach wild animals for food or to subsidies their incomes. In order to extract the oil, the roots of the trees must be boiled, and thus require large amounts of forest wood to make the fires. The oil leaks into the streams, causing even more environmental damage, and possibly harming locals who live downstream and drink the water. All in all, Cambodia’s ecstasy tree is causing massive damage and destruction to the environment and harm to local inhabitants.


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