The agony and the ecstasy

The drug ecstasy (or MDMA) is made from safrole oil, much of it produced illicitly in the Cardamom Mountains of western Cambodia. An article in GlobalPost reports how production of this oil for the drug is deforesting this area, causing erosion and polluting nearby streams with the distilleries’ waste. The western Cardamoms are also home to more than 80 threatened species, such as the Asian elephant, Indochinese tiger and Siamese crocodile, according to the conservation nonprofit Fauna and Flora International. That group, the report says, has been helping local authorities stage raids on safrole oil distilleries, most of which are found in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

Safrole oil comes from a tree known in the region as Mreah prew phnom. It takes four of these trees to produce one 40-gallon barrel of safrole oil and six less valuable trees to use as firewood to process just one Mreah prew phnom tree.