Air in eight Italian cities is dosed with cocaine and cannabis


If you’re in Italy and after some cocaine, Turin is probably the place to go, while cannabis fans would be better off visiting the student cities of Bologna and Florence. At least that’s what a study of psychotropic substances present in the air of eight Italian cities suggests.

The findings, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, follow up on prior work revealing trace elements of the substances in Taranto and Rome. At the time the author of both papers, chemist Angelo Cecinato of Rome’s Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research, had said, «We considered it a curiosity». This time around however, atmospheric levels were monitored over the course of a year in Palermo, Turin, Rome, Bologna, Florence, Milan, Naples and Verona, with cocaine, cannabinoids, nicotine and caffeine all measured — the results show it is not a curiosity at all, but a fair indicator and reflection of what is going on in an urban centre.

The amounts are trace, however, so there’s no need for worry, nor is there a risk of getting high off these kinds of levels. For instance, levels of cocaine across the eight cities ranged from around 0.02 to 0.26 ng/m3 (nanogrammes per metre cubed).

Sicily and Naples might be a hub of illegal Mafioso activity, but it looks like the majority of addictive substances trafficked to Italy are consumed in Turin, which revealed the highest levels all round, and the least in Palermo.

The results also reveal that there appears to be a seasonal shift in behaviours around the use of caffeine and cannabinoids. Measurements of both substances across all eight cities peaked in the winter, with next to nothing found in the months from May to August. It suggests the better the weather gets, the less need a city has for a warming hit of caffeine or marijuana high.

Nicotine and cocaine use, however, remains fairly consistent over the course of the year. The paper’s authors also suggested that the higher than average levels of cannabinoids in Bologna and Florence is down to the student culture — both have a small population of between 300,000 and 400,000, and both are academic hubs and attract a large number of foreign students every year. Interestingly, there’s also a high speed rail connection linking up to the two historic cities. In contrast, Turin, where cocaine levels were the highest of all eight cities, is a manufacturing centre and economic hub for the country.

Past studies by Cecinato revealed that higher levels of cocaine in the air correlated with addicts’ requests for treatment in those areas, while there was little or no correlation between substance levels and police seizures of those illicit substances — suggesting addicts seek help more often than police attempt to solve the problem. Cities could make use of atmospheric levels as an indicator of geographical substance abuse — if the same study is carried out year after year, the Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research could track the levels of addiction and work with the authorities and local health services to make sure the right services and counter-measures are provided.

Image: Untitled / Dan Rosenthal / CC BY-NC 2.0




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