Remember when your parents used to constantly bug you to go outside? They may have been acting like nothing more than common pushers. According to ScienceNow, researchers in Italy have found that trace amounts of illicit drugs float in the atmosphere at a higher rate near areas with more drug activity. You are now free to follow Phish around the country with a vacuum sealer and start bottling that precious, heady air.
This discovery began when analytical chemist Angelo Cecinat and his colleagues “detected small amounts of cocaine in the air of Rome and the city of Taranto on the coast of southern Italy.” Their further research suggests that there is a higher rate of airborne cocaine or cannabinoids in areas with more reported drug-use and drug-related crime.
Here’s the science of how they were able to create this correlation:
Cecinato and colleagues analyzed the air in 20 spots in eight regions of Italy in winter and 39 sites in 14 regions in summer. The investigators collected air samples, extracted the contaminants, and analyzed the results, checking for cocaine and cannabinoids (the active ingredients in marijuana). To rule out false positives caused by other compounds, the team also tested for common pollutants including hydrocarbons, ozone, and nitric oxide.
Relationships were evaluated with the so-called Pearson regression coefficient (represented by the symbol R2), which shows how strongly two factors correlate when plotted on a graph. An R2 of 1 means the two essentially coincide. When the researchers compared their results against records of drug-related criminal activity, they found that airborne concentrations of cocaine correlated with the amount of drugs seized by police; R2 values were 0.54 for cocaine seizures and 0.73 for the total amount of illicit substances.
The use of this accurate detection system would be a boon for authorities who are trying to quickly estimate drug abuse rates in certain areas without needing to conduct time-consuming surveys. They also could use it as a party detector.
Don’t expect to open your window and get a buzz, however. Experts highly doubt that these trace amounts have any effect on non-users because their presence in the air is so minute.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 17, 2011