Researchers find cocaine, cannabis in Italian city air

Something’s in the air in Italy -- and that something is cocaine.

A study of eight major metropolitan hubs in the country, published this week in the journal Environmental Pollution, has found trace levels of cocaine and cannabanoids from marijuana use. The researchers also monitored the more pedestrian (and legal) drugs of abuse, nicotine and caffeine. The study is a government-sponsored follow-up to a 2006 study in Rome, which found trace elements of cocaine in the air.

Why measure atmospheric coke? It’s not because the drugs are dangerous, nor are the levels in the air going to get you high. Instead, the researchers argue that measuring airborne quantities of the substances allows them to observe trends in use that can be used to inform policy, and potentially marshal resources more effectively.

The researchers found some interesting results and patterns. Palermo residents appeared to use the least drugs, while the good folks of Turin  had the highest airborne drug levels. Residents of Florence like their marijuana, it seems -- not surprising, given the large community of college students that live there.


And while cocaine and nicotine use was steady year-round, caffeine and cannabinoid levels were far higher in the winter months than the summer. The researchers chalk that up to seasonal depression.

If the results hold up over time, the data could help the Italian government track the use of drugs, allowing them to efficiently deploy both police and treatment-related resources.

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