by hilzoy

Irin News reports on a little-known side effect of the market for Ecstasy:

"The production of sassafras oil, which is used to make the recreational drug ecstasy, in southwest Cambodia, is destroying trees, the livelihoods of local inhabitants and wreaking untold ecological damage, according to David Bradfield, adviser to the Wildlife Sanctuaries Project of Fauna and Flora International (FFI).

The sassafras oil comes from the Cardamom Mountain area, one of the last forest wildernesses in mainland southeast Asia, and where the FFI project is based. (...)

Cambodian sassafras oil is highly sought after as it is of the highest quality - over 90 percent pure, according to the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Cambodia, Lars Pedersen. "Massive amounts of sassafras oil are smuggled every year into Vietnam and Thailand from Cambodia," he said.

Sassafras oil is made from the roots of the rare Mreah Prew Phnom tree - also known as Cinnamomum parathenoxylon. The roots are first chopped into small blocks of wood and shredded into a fibrous consistency. This is then typically put into large metal vats and distilled over hot wood fires for at least five days in the oil distillation process.

"[The Mreah Prew Phnom] is a very rare tree that is now beginning to disappear because of the illegal distilleries in the Cardamom Mountains," Bradfield said.

"The production of sassafras oil over the last 10 years has severely depleted these trees and if the illicit production isn't stamped out soon, they could become extinct in the near future," he warned."

Apparently, the workers who distill the sassafras oil also eat and sell endangered species. Great.

Back in the day, when I was more attuned to these things, people didn't seem to think much about the social and environmental effects of illicit drug use. That always seemed to me to be an odd blind spot: I knew plenty of people who worked for various good causes by day, and supported organizations that helped to destroy inner-city neighborhoods by night, for instance, without noticing the conflict between their principles and their use of cocaine. I suspect that that has changed. I hope so.

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