Cocaine Concentrations in the Air Above Italian Cities Correlate with Drug Use

By Veronique Greenwood | December 19, 2011 1:30 pm


Drugs have a habit of making their way from our bodies into the environment: they’ve frequently been found in waste water, drinking water, and rivers (not to mention on dollar bills). But they could also be rising into the air, and a new study suggests their aerial concentrations could give scientists a clue to what, exactly, is happening on the ground below. Following up on earlier research showing that cocaine was present in the air above the cities of Taranto and Rome, Italian researchers at the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research in Rome took about 60 samples of air in various regions and tested for a number of contaminants, including cocaine, cannabinoids (chemicals found in marijuana), and more common pollutants, like ozone and hydrocarbons. When they looked to see whether there was a correlation between cocaine concentration and addicts’ requests for treatment in particular geographical areas, they found a very strong relationship. Weaker correlations existed between cocaine concentration and police seizures of cocaine and concentration and seizure of all kinds of illicit substances.

The team is excited about the possibility of using aerial cocaine concentration to get a sense of drug use levels, a notoriously slippery thing to measure, and possibly other activities that sometimes occur in tandem with drug use, like robberies. However, their approach didn’t turn up any significant correlations between crime-related activities and cannabinoids, which is interesting—what does that mean about the social correlates of marijuana use (or, alternatively, about the fraction of cannabinoids that actually make into the air)? If you’re worried about getting high from the air, it seems unlikely that concentrations are high enough to have an effect. But who knows—that’s a question that has yet to be addressed.

[via ScienceNOW]

Image courtesy of Adam Swank / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • rabidmob

    Awesome, I must be immune to hordes of things just from breathing the air.

  • 88515

    “However, their approach didn’t turn up any significant correlations between crime-related activities and cannabinoids, which is interesting—what does that mean about the social correlates of marijuana use?”

    Oh, wow! How closed-minded does one have to be to actually believe that smoking weed & committing crime is related (inb4 smoking weed is illegal, therefor it’s a crime! -> to that i facepalm)? Seriously?! People, you have to grow up and ditch all these old myths and dogmas about drug use. Drugs are bad when abused. Take a look at Holland – the country with the LOWEST levels of marijuana use among the native people in Europe. Ever wondered why?

  • Laura G

    Can someone explain to me why they used a photo of someone using a page from the Bible to snort coke? Would they have just as easily used a page from the quaran? Let me guess….NO. Everyone knows most folks use a dollar bill to snort. Looks like a blatant insult to Christianity to me.

  • Iain

    sometimes occur in tandem with drug use, like robberies. However, their approach didn’t turn up any significant correlations between crime-related activities and cannabinoids

    Let’s see, cocaine costs a lot, maybe $200/day/user and pot costs about $150/month/heavy user. Who is more likely to go broke first?
    A) $200/day coke head
    B) $5/day pot head
    C) $12/day tobacco head
    D) $20/day boozer

  • Micah

    anyone else notice he’s snorting coke with a passage from the bible?

  • http://none vegetable

    Hes closer to his god with every line.

  • Jeremy

    @Micah, perhaps it’s a conservative photographer? I’m just curious as to why the photographer chose to use Exodus. I’ve got my theories, but I’m probably over-thinking it.

  • m


    Excellent point.


  • Damien

    I would like to know just how much cocaine was used to do this test. Also whether or not this has been done in the United States.

  • goldencut

    3. commenter is a good example why atheists look down on religious people… most religious people are like violent imbeciles – can’t reason with them but also can’t ignore them.

  • Matthew

    LOL@ comment 3,5,7 and 8

    I am sure the reporter just googled for a quick image to add to this story, you four are just over thinking too much. Did you even read the article or just look at pictures like in those fairy tale children books?

    Good night kids

  • Greg

    Maybe it’s Tim Tebow in the picture. He always has a bible close by.

  • Geack


    Smoking weed isn’t necessarily related to committing crimes, but selling weed and getting money for weed often are – although Iain #4 makes a very good point about that issue.

    @ Damien,
    They didn’t spray coke into the air. They just sampled the air and checked what was already in it.

  • Bill

    Perhaps the photographer is pointing out the hypocrisy of believers.

  • Tony

    Do you think the photographer used the story of Moses parting the red sea as some sort of meaning for the photo? I’ll admit, I’ve never done anything, so maybe I’m just naive to some of the cocaine lingo here.

    I wonder how high the concentrations of drugs like cocaine and such were in the air above Florence…

  • Clement

    I think the photo is supposed to show how drug addiction will make you forget everything else. The user has ripped a page from the bible to snort with, cuz s/he is so addicted nothing that is important to them matters when they need their fix.

    I really doubt it’s supposed to be a “slap in the face” to Christians. How that one makes any sense, I don’t know. But some people want to feel oppressed even when they are the vast majority.

  • Jen

    It would have to be a page from the new testament to claim it’s an insult to Christianity specifically.

  • Alice

    Anyone else consider that just maybe, the ‘insult to Christianity’ is why it was included? Not because Discover wants to offer insult, but because the practice of smoking in bible paper is fairly well known-and while the drug my be different, gods only forbid someone write a story about drugs without sensationalizing it somehow.

    And look, they’ve got you all mad about religion now, too. So now drug users aren’t just immoral, criminal, and shiftless scum-they’re blasphemous too. Except. . .not. Real reason is because bibles are printed on really nice, thin paper-when you run out of rolling leaf, it’s the best place to look.

    Good job on getting your righteous fires all stoked up though, I’m sure that’ll get you some brownie points.

  • Dan M

    God, please tell these people it isn’t about them or Christianity, because you are not just for Christians right? RIGHT?

    I believe in a religion where paper is sacred and is simply flakes of dry skin that fall from God. So this article offends me a Paperist.

  • Vikram


    Congratulations. Here is your honorary internet.


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