Since we’re doing movie cliches, how hard is it for a regular person to get chloroform? When you watch movies or TV shows, it seems as if the stuff is available at every corner drug store or something. From what I’ve read on the net, it has mostly industrial uses, hence large quantities, not the small bottles usually shown. Evil villain catalog?
According to my father, up until the 1950s he could purchase chloroform over the counter at his local rural suppliers, along with arsenic pentoxide, strychnine, dynamite and potassium cyanide.
That other movie favourite, diethyl ether, was still available over the counter at most drug stores into the 1960s.
When I was in university in the early 90s there was a 5 L bottle of chloroform on the bench in our entomology lab, and we could fill up small bottles with the stuff as we saw fit to use in our killing jars.
You’d never get away with any of that today. Times change incredibly fast. It surprises people sometimes just how heavily regulated our lives have become, and how fast, for better or for worse.
So yeah, people in the past could get chloroform/ether incredibly easily. You still can get it in 500mL bottles fairly readily if you know how to go about it and can speak the right jargon, but I won’t expand on how.
You can find chloroform in the big chemical companies’ catalogs in large or small quantities, but you’d have to order over the internet, and I don’t know what restrictions (if any) they’ve placed on it nowadays. Until only a decade or so ago there was a branch of a scientific company nearby that I could actually go to and pick the stuff up, but that’s a thing of the past now.
I doubt if you could get it in a drugstore. Heck, it’s hard enough to get methyl salicylate in a drugstore anymore, and that used to be common and relatively benign. Chloroform is hazardous – besides putting you to sleep, its MSDS lists it as a “probable carcinogen”(although, curiously, it says “no data available” for acute toxicity" and other entries). Not stuiff you want to fool around with, and not the relatively harmless stuff depicted in mysteries and thrillers of years gone by.
I know the tri-chloroethane used for cleaning IBM mainframe tape drives had the warning about health problems - “use in well-ventilated area”.
I recall reading about the John Wayne Gacey(?) case in Chicago(?) when it was in the news. It mentioned one guy he tried to kidnap. He chloroformed the guy, but when he woke up he escaped. While the trial was going on, after all the bodies were discovered, it was mentioned this guy still suffered from liver problems from the dose of chloroform. The implication was that using chloroform was not long-term harmless, and too much (but not enough to kill) could cause serious health problems like liver damage.
A dilute solution of Chloroform is rather easy to make from readily available ingredients. We learned this in junior high from a book in our library.
This same book explained how to make many of the explosive compounds using ammonium nitrate that now raise red flags today.
When I was a kid, I read a couple of biographies of Thomas Edison. They described the chemistry experiments he conducted as a child. As I remember, he had quite a lot of chemicals in the basement of his parents’ house and later, when he was working as a teenage telegraph operator aboard a train, did these experiments onboard the train. And I just read the the Wikipedia article on Edison, which says that he claimed at one point that the chemistry lab in a boxcar caught on fire, and he was thrown off the train. Can you imagine the uproar that would occur today if someone were running a chemistry lab on a passenger train?
As noted upthread, many chemicals were fairly easy to get at the drug store up until some post 1950s. Carbon tetrachloride for dry cleaning spots, potassium permanganate had a number of uses on the farm, iodine crystals to make your own tincture etc. Then along came someone or something, OSHA perhaps and they were all removed from general retail. We were required to remove the chemicals we were not using from the shelves in the hospital laboratory in the 70s.
When I was a kid in the 50s I had a huge insect collection. I used carbon tetrachloride in my killing jar, and even as a kid, never had any problem getting it in any drug store.
Now that’s an interesting reaction. I’m going to spend all night working out the mechanism.
Just google manufacture chloroform and you’ll get the method.
This wasn’t so much about it’s toxicity, which I’m sure it has some issues around, but rather that it’s heavier than air, so if it gets in your lungs, you’ll suffocate… or at least compromise respiration efficiency.
I always imagined turning myself over, and letting the vapors run out to save my life. But instead, I just opened a window in the computer lab that I maintained in high school where I used that stuff.
I’m not interested in the method. It’s the mechanism by which that method works that is interesting. Chlorine transfer to an alpha carbon on a carbonyl is beyond standard carbonyl chemistry.
I imagine that’s the haloform reaction. It used to be a standard ID test for ethanol (using bromine water).
I suspected it was something like that. I haven’t seen the mechanism for haloform in a long time. I do wish the first step on that page were better indicated, but I suspect the chlorination step is simply nucleophilic attack of the enolate on the chlorine in hypochloric acid to give hydroxide and the alpha chlorine.
What’s with all the “I know but I’m not gonna tell you” evasive type answers? This is the Straight Dope, not the Politically Correct Nanny State Dope.
Actually, it’s the “Telling People How to Break the Law Will Get You Banned” Dope, and circumventing the measures used to keep these chemicals out of the hands of people who don’t have the training, equipment, or a legitimate use might cross that line – needlessly, as the OP didn’t ask how to get it, he just asked how hard it is. BTW, there’s only one such “evasive” answer in this thread.
Please cite the line in this thread that inquires about illegal activity.
C’mon now, it’s not like he was asking about getting Red Devil lye (falsely claiming to be making soap) or sassafras roots (claiming to be making tea or root beer) or, heaven and the FDA forbid, pseudoephedrine (with some obviously phony story about a runny nose.)
In the interest of fighting ignorance, I am going to risk all and say that doing a search for “buy chloroform” led me right to sciencelab.com/.
Just for fun, I also took a look at Process for the manufacture of chloroform on the US Patent Office website.
Once again, NOBODY ASKED! So why the hell is it so important to you to tell?
And there is no indication that sciencelab.com will actually sell it to you:
“We provide specialty chemicals and high purity chemicals to industry, individual professionals, life science, educational institutes, pharmaceutical, pilot plants and laboratories.”
Most chemical suppliers, including those with an online presence, will not sell to casual purchasers. There are ways to trick them into selling to you, and that is what Blake is no doubt declining to discuss.
It seems to me a link to a place with a price list (found by a simple search) is a pretty fair answer to the question “how hard is it for a regular person to get chloroform?”
To me, the quest for knowledge for its own sake is reason enough … fighting ignorance … longer than we thought … the truth shall make men free … propaganda … misinformation … disinformation … book burnings … etc. …