Scientists can now accurately detect drugs floating in the air. They also have found statistical relationships between atmospheric cocaine levels and certain types of cancers, as well as a connection between marijuana levels and mental disorders.
Yes. Researchers have been able to find illegal drugs in the sewage system of cities for years. But, in 2007, scientists from the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research in Rome accidentally detected small amounts of cocaine in the air too. They "considered it a curiosity" but those findings led to this new study.
Apparently they are. The newly-published research has accurately revealed the levels of cocaine and cannabinoids—marijuana's active ingredient—in almost 40 sites through more than a dozen regions in Italy. Their findings rule out false positives by testing for other compounds.
The results are pretty damning: they compared them with police data, finding a strong connection between the measured level of drugs in the air and the drug activity in the area, as well as other parameters like the relation between detected atmospheric levels, criminal activity and illnesses connected to these drugs.
In other words: the tests are spot on.
This will be very useful for anti-drug agencies. Using this technology, they would be able to detect increasing levels of cocaine and cannabis in the air and prevent crime. Likewise, they would be able to measure the effectiveness of different polices, like prevention and rehabilitation.
The chemist who led the study, Angelo Cecinato, says that they have found correlations between cocaine levels and some cancers. The statistical connection was there for cannabis and mental disorders too. However, he warns that, while the correlation exists, they don't know yet what it means.
This doesn't mean that going to a bar in Soho and inadvertently inhaling cocaine would affect you in any way. Wilson Compton, an epidemiologist of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland, says that it's too early too tell:
I wouldn't sound any alarm bells based on this one study. But the researchers did find this link, and it's worth further exploration. Second-hand cigarette smoke wasn't considered a health threat either, until comparatively recently.