With drugs, he says, there is the inevitable increase in crime, and violence. “A lot of the people involved in the distribution of marijuana are incredibly violent. We’ve seen people put through wood chippers, decapitated, or otherwise gruesomely murdered. Even in my military tours, I’d never seen anything like it.

As bad as today’s marijuana is, Nichols says, other commonly available drugs can be worse.

DEA Get Smart About Drugs website

“Methamphetamine is without a doubt one of the most destructive drugs I’ve seen in my career. I can’t begin to tell you how it has ravaged individuals, families, and communities. I can’t begin to recall how many kids, from babies on up, that we’ve taken out of meth labs, where their mom and dad were cooking the stuff. It turns your stomach. There’s hardly anyone today anyone who doesn’t know a family member or friend or someone in school or the community who’s been hooked on meth — one of my best friends got 15 years in the state penitentiary on a meth charge; it broke my heart.”

Meth manufacturing and the crime associated with it have been graphically depicted in the TV series “Breaking Bad,” but Nichols says, the reality of the lives ruined, or ended, by the drug is perhaps worse, because it is so easily made.

“People think you need a big laboratory or chemical operation. Not so. All you need is a large soda bottle, some cold medication, some fertilizer (ammonium nitrate), Red Devil lye, ether (starter fluid), water, lithium (from camera batteries), table salt, hydrochloric acid or other acid, and you’ve got a ‘shake-and-bake’ one-pot cooking lab.

“It is extremely dangerous, not only for those cooking, but for those cleaning up after an arrest. It requires fire-resistant suits, masks, and other protective gear. These soda bottle ‘labs’ are very volatile and can explode in a great burst of fire, causing major burns, even death.”

Farmers have not been immune from the proliferation of meth production. Anhydrous ammonia can be used as one of the ingredients, and many farmers have had their storage tanks damaged by meth cookers, who risk serious injury to themselves when stealing the caustic fertilizer.”

Many of the Mississippi farm thefts were by meth cookers from Arkansas coming across river bridges at Helena, Greenville, and Vicksburg.

Mississippi, in 2010, became only the second state to pass a law banning over-the-counter sales of cold medications containing ephedrine/pseudoephedrine. Two years after passing the landmark legislation, the number of meth-related incidents had declined more than 70 percent, and the number of drug-endangered children taken from meth labs had dropped nearly 80 percent.”

But says Nichols, when Mississippi’s law became effective, “The meth cookers started going to neighboring states to buy the cold meds. We stationed people at stores just across the state line, checking Mississippi vehicle tags, and monitoring the drivers making purchases of cold medicine.

“When they came back across the state line, they were stopped by interdiction officers. Four of first five vehicles we stopped had active cooking under way in their cars — potential explosions going down the highway. One guy who was cooking in a store parking lot was killed when his ‘lab’ exploded. Imagine if you’d been walking by the vehicle when that happened.”

Highly addictive, Nichols says meth is a physically destructive drug. “Continued use causes rapid aging, horrible sores, paranoia, infections; if smoked, it causes meth mouth — the hot vapors destroy teeth and gums.”