Do you know how ecstasy is made? Well, do you? I certainly didn’t have any idea whatsoever until stumbling across this excellent 2009 Vanguard documentary. In order to make MDMA you need safrole oil, the sticky residue of a rare rainforest tree genus called Sassafras. When demand for MDMA increases, demand for the tree sap increases, and that tree sap comes from one of the most pristine rainforest environments in the world. In Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam there is widespread destruction of beautiful previously untouched patches of rainforests by opportunists who are cutting trails deep into the jungle and setting up clandestine safrole oil factories.
The result is a huge impact on the natural environment, all in aid of fueling a forever increasing Western demand for one of the most popular party drugs of the past thirty years. It isn’t just the destruction of the Sassafras trees which is causing issue but rather the huge quantities of fire wood required to boil the roots and extract the safrole, the result is severe deforestation and visible erosion of the mountainous areas around the illegal factories.
While demand for the substance has been very high since the early-nineties, two decades of industrial production is having a serious effect on the ecology of the area and has left sassafras trees in short demand. Twenty years ago there were an abundance of Sassafras trees in South East Asia, now they are mostly concentrated around a single national park. Cambodian authorities have upped their game and launched a war on the oil farmers, in 2009 a major raid netted 142 barrels of safrole oil. That would have been enough to produce $1.2 billion worth of Ecstasy tablets.
In Forest of Ecstasy a Current TV correspondent Adam Yamaguchi follows a team of armed forest rangers as they undertake a mission to search for and then destroy oil farms in the Cambodian rainforest.