Is America’s Money Making You Feel Funny?


If you’re one of those people who graduated from high school during the late 80s/early 90s then you may recall that there were all sorts of conspiracy theory type pseudo-facts regarding the drug trade that you weren’t sure were true or not.

Like the one that said 90 percent of American paper money has traces of cocaine on it. That one sounded so far fetched it had to be a lie … right? Wrong!

During a recent study whose findings were present at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. a group of scientists tested banknotes culled from more than 30 cities in five countries, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Japan, and found “alarming” evidence of cocaine use in many areas.

U.S. and Canadian currency had the highest levels, with an average contamination rate of between 85 and 90 percent, while Chinese and Japanese currency had the lowest, between 12 and 20 percent contamination. Study leader Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth said that the high percentage of contaminated U.S. currency observed in the current study represents nearly a 20 percent jump in comparison to a similar study he conducted two years ago.

To be fair, scientists have known for years that paper money can become contaminated with cocaine during drug deals and directly through drug use, such as snorting cocaine through rolled bills. Contamination can also spread to banknotes not involved in the illicit drug culture, because bills are processed in banks’ currency-counting machines.

Zuo and his colleagues used a modified instrument that allowed for faster, simpler and more accurate measurement of cocaine contamination than other methods, without destroying the currency. The amounts of cocaine found on U.S. bills ranged from .006 micrograms (several thousands of times smaller than a single grain of sand) to more than 1,240 micrograms of cocaine per banknote (about 50 grains of sand).

The scientists found that larger cities like Baltimore, Boston, and Detroit had among the highest average cocaine levels. Washington, D.C., ranked above the average, with 95 percent of the banknotes sampled contaminated with the drug.

The lowest average cocaine levels in U.S. currency appeared on bills collected from Salt Lake City.

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