Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter

We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.

When police roused and evacuated residents of Georgetown University’s Harbin Hall after discovering a “clandestine” drug lab early in the morning of October 23, they did so because they thought the place might explode.

Meth labs are extremely combustible. But as it turns out, the process for manufacturing Dimethyltryptamine [DMT] is not nearly as dangerous. And though the dorm room that contained supplies like mason jars and ammonia, dry ice and paint thinner, might have looked like the former, it was the latter. According to prosecutor B. Patrick Costello, DMT labs don’t “contain the same risk of explosion.”

On Friday, that was one thing the two college freshmen had going for them as they stood before a U.S. District Court judge. Charles Smith and John Perrone hadn’t almost incinerated their classmates. They had, however, decided to go after a DIY high, extracting a hallucinogen that can be found in Mimosa root-bark.

As their parents watched from the long wood benches of a U.S. Courthouse courtroom, the two slender students, clad in dark suits and striped ties, took turns loping up to the microphoned podium where they both plead guilty to one count of “unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance” and explained what they’d planned.

According to their testimony, given as they were questioned by a judge in connection to a plea deal that should allow them to serve zero jail time, they aren’t drug dealers, just hobbyists. The scheme to make a batch of DMT was just “in the air” when Perrone and Smith were high school buddies back in Andover, Mass. The two, and some of their other friends, talked about it from time to time. There were instructions on how to make DMT  on the internet, and the process seemed relatively easy.

They just needed a place to do it. When the two went off to college, Perrone to University of Richmond and Smith to Georgetown University, they saw their chance. About a week before the bust, Perrone bought most of the supplies they would need at a Home Depot. On a free weekend he loaded up his car and drove to Georgetown.

When Perrone arrived with the equipment and stinky chemicals, Smith’s dorm room had already been smell-proofed. Smith had tacked weatherstripping around the door, though he says it wasn’t in preparation for the lab. His lawyer, Danny Onorato, suggested  the installation was done weeks earlier to keep “smoke” from wafting out. It wasn’t clear whether he meant nicotine smoke.

Perrone, who stopped testifying to consult with his lawyer, G. Allen Dale, several times during the proceeding, still remembers the basics of the process for making DMT. He rattled off that knowledge to the judge with somewhat disconcerting familiarity. He also said he did most of the mixing. Smith, for his part, promised to pay for half the supplies.

The experiment was a success. In mason jars sealed in a Styrofoam cooler full of dry ice, the mixture Perrone put together began to form crystals. At the end of the process, the crystals could be smoked or snorted. The two didn’t plan to sell the stuff, they said. “I might have shared it with others, but that was not the plan. The plan was not to manufacture a bunch and sell it, ” said Perrone. Either way, they wouldn’t get the chance.

Police sources said that the mistake someone in the dorm room made that day was selling a bit of the synthetic marijuana known as K2. Smoking the legal substance outside, the supposed customer was questioned by GU public safety officers. They wanted to know where the fake pot had come from. Soon, they were searching the dorm room the smoker pointed to. They were free to do so without probable cause because GU is a private institution.

In the end, cops only found a gram of DMT in the dorm. But that was enough, according to Perrone, to provide ten doses. Considering the alleged K2 sale, and the fact that the two planned on producing a lot more DMT, whether they intended to peddle the stuff may still be an open question. As we learned from a certain Columbia University drug ring, such enterprises can be lucrative.

Still, whatever their long-term DMT ambitions may have been, three years’ probation is probably an appropriate sentence for a criminal endeavor that never quite got off the ground.