Precursor chemical domestic licensing

Companies who deal in precursor chemicals need to be licensed or registered with the Home Office. Applications submitted from 15th November 2010 are subject to Fees

From 28 March, those wishing to export phenylacetic acid to a non EU country will need to apply for an export license. Exports of Category 2 & 3 precursor chemicals to Afghanistan, Australia and Ghana will now require an export licences for all shipments. Please see the new March 2011 wall chart.

The effective control of chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is an important tool in combating drug trafficking.
These chemicals, known as 'precursors', also have legitimate commercial uses as they are legally used in a wide variety of industrial processes and consumer products, such as medicines, flavourings and fragrances.

It is necessary to recognise and protect the legal trade in these substances, while at the same time discouraging their diversion for illicit purposes. The objective therefore is to strike a balance between avoiding the restriction of legitimate trade and actions taken to prevent the illicit manufacture of drugs.

For example, 'piperonal' is a substance used in the manufacture of perfumes, flavourings, and anti-mosquito products. However it can also be used in the illicit production of synthetic drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine. Acetic anhydride is used in the chemical, photographic and pharmaceutical industries, but it is also used as the acetylating agent in the production of heroin.


Regulation of precursors covers 23 chemical substances which are divided into 3 categories:

  • category 1 covers the most sensitive substances (the 'key' drug precursors)
  • category 2 covers less sensitive substances and pre-precursors
  • category 3 covers bulk chemicals that can have different types of uses in the manufacturing process (for example, as feedstock, solvents, or impurities removers)

The legislation excludes medicinal products for human use, but covers all natural products and preparations (or mixtures) containing at least one scheduled substance, provided that they can be extracted by 'readily applicable or economically viable means'. 

The list of precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances under control are defined by the United Nations International Control Board.

You can also check the Home Office's precursor chemicals wallchart (March 2011).


In the United Kingdom the two statutory instruments that impose licence and reporting obligations on those dealing in scheduled substances are:

  • Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Intra-Community Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 295)
  • Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Community External Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 296)

It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the requirements of these regulations. The penalties for non-compliance are detailed on the SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency) website.

Reporting Thefts & Losses of Precursor Chemicals

All thefts and losses must be reported.

Download the Thefts and losses form




Share |

Internet links

(Links will open in a new window)

We are not responsible for the content of external websites.