Clandestine synthetic drug labs

A clandestine lab is a secret or concealed location where criminals produce or prepare synthetic drugs. This can include methamphetamine and MDMA (also known as "ecstasy"). The majority of Canada's meth and MDMA supply is produced domestically by organized crime.

The two most common types of clandestine labs are:

Economic-based lab or "super lab"

Large-scale, highly organized labs generally tied to organized crime where drugs are produced for the purpose of exporting.

Addiction-based lab or "user lab"

Small-scale, makeshift labs that generally produce just enough drugs for use by themselves and their close associates.

On this page

Possible locations of clandestine labs

Clandestine labs are often found in:

  • Upscale single- and multiple-family dwellings
  • Farms
  • Rural properties
  • Automotive shops
  • Warehouses
  • Car trunks
  • Truck boxes

The smaller labs, such as those in the trunk of a vehicle, can be the most dangerous because of their simplicity and portability. Criminals can mix the ingredients in soda bottles that can become volatile and explosive.

Dangers of a clandestine lab

Clandestine labs pose great dangers to people who live near them, first responders, and operators of the labs.

Clandestine labs pose the following risks:

  • Fires and explosions due to solvents or a high concentration of gases
  • Health consequences due to toxic chemicals
  • Poisoned air
  • Contaminated walls
  • Contaminated well water
  • Electrical hazards
  • Chemicals that ignite when exposed to air or water
  • Exposure to very strong drugs
  • Leaking and/or damaged compressed gas cylinders
  • Oxygen deficient or toxic atmospheres
  • Damaged and leaking chemical containers
  • Potential for booby traps

Signs of a clandestine lab

Note: Any one indicator may not cause concern. However, if you notice more than one of the following indicators, you may wish to notify the police.

From outside


Pungent smells, such as black licorice and ammonia or vinegar acetic taste/odour.


Covered, blacked out, or with the curtains always drawn.


Staining around vent, extreme corrosion and/or unusual coloured vapour emitting from vent.

Extensive security measures or attempts to ensure privacy including cameras set-up, several locks on exterior doors, and "beware of dog" signs.

Large quantities of chemical containers, bottles, metal drums, fibre (cardboard) barrels.


Labels have been removed or spray painted over.

Burn pits, stained soil, or dead vegetation indicating dumped chemicals or waste.

From inside

Large amount of empty cold medication containers containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Red stains on countertops, bathtubs or sinks/toilets.
Laboratory glassware and equipment including cookware (Pyrex) or frying pans with powdery residue and bottles with rubber tubing attached to other chemicals.
Coffee filters with white pasty substances or shiny white crystals (or reddish-brown substance).
Kitty litter:
Excessive amounts used to soak up chemicals spills.

Behavioural indicators


Either only home occasionally and for short periods of time or seem to always be home and never leave the house.

  • They avoid contact with neighbours and only access the residence through the garage to load and unload material

Appear secretive about their activities and display paranoid or odd behaviour.


Garbage is rarely put out or put out in another neighbour's collection.

  • Residents may also wait for the arrival of the garbage truck to bring their garbage to the curb

Arrive during odd hours and for short periods of tim.

What to do if you encounter a clandestine lab

  • Evacuate the premises
  • Do not touch or inhale anything
  • Do not turn on or off electrical power switches or light switches
  • Do not open or move containers
  • Do not disconnect power or water inside or to the building
  • Decontaminate yourself and your clothing and wash your hands and face thoroughly

How to report it

If you suspect illegal drug activity in your community including labs, purchasing, or toxic waste dumping, contact your local police or call Crime Stoppers (toll free) at 1-800-711-1800.

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