& Deforestation

What Are The Social And Environmental

Impacts Of A Cocaine Habit?

Let’s get it out on the table; cocaine is just as popular as it’s ever been.

On an average night out in London, you might have a guy try and chat you up with pupils the size of dinner plates, be offered to purchase a bit of Charlie from a random on the street or hear girls snorting in the next cubicle when you go to pee. Hell, maybe you’re even one of them. And that’s okay, we’re not here to judge.

But it’s not exactly the most ethical thing you can purchase on a night out, and even though conscious credentials are probably the last thing you’re thinking of when you’re doing a line, we thought it might be worth discussing anyways, just in case you wanted to think about it from a fresh perspective.

// The Highs N’ Lows //

Once exclusively the privilege of bankers and rappers, coke is super easy to get ahold of in the the Big Smoke these days.

Around 25-30 tonnes of coke are illegally trafficked into the UK every single year and over time that kind of influx contributed to making London the “Cocaine Capital of Europe” until Antwerp knocked it off the top spot in 2016. This kind of availability has been important in making it one of the most popular drugs of choice.

Unsurprisingly, cocaine was the second most commonly used drug in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59, with city dwellers aged between 18-45 being the top candidates to have a little dabble here and there. In fact, a massive 1 in 10 adults have tried cocaine in their lifetime, (which is definitely something to ponder next time you’re in a room with 10 people or more). And while it’s still not a cheap habit to have (costing between £30-50 quid per gram) cocaine use is pretty accessible even to mid-income users.

But there are other prices to pay besides money.

cocaine on marilyn monroe
Photo: Photographer unknown via Pinterest

// 1 Gram Of Coke = 4 Square Metres Of Forest //

One of, if not the biggest price we’re paying for cocaine, is environmental.

Cocaine is made from the coca plant, which, like any other crop such as cotton or wheat, requires masses of land to grow. But unlike legal crops such as cotton or wheat, land required for the production of coca plants is coming from the illegal deforestation of absolutely huge swathes of land. In fact, the production of coca plants accounts for at least 25% of the average yearly deforestation in Colombia, which is where the vast majority of all coca plants come from.

2.2 million hectares of forest lost over the course of 20 years may not mean much to you, but what if we told you that four square metres of rainforest are destroyed for every single gram of cocaine snorted in the UK?

Yeah, we were shocked too.

And for the most part, this is Amazon jungle that’s being destroyed – the lungs of our planet, which produces about 15% of the worlds oxygen. It’s kind of moronic when you really think about it – we’re slowly suffocating ourselves for an evening of (misplaced) confidence and an increased heart rate. That’s a pretty poor exchange. Inevitably, coca production has spread beyond Columbia, into Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, turning huge areas of biodiverse forest into agricultural land. At this point in history, cocaine traffickers are single handedly responsible for the disappearance of millions of acres of tropical forest across Central America.

And all this is before we even mention the chemicals that are required in the production of marching powder. Jungle terrain isn’t even ideal for agriculture and that means that coca growers need to use 10 times more chemicals that other farmers. They also regularly dump waste from those chemicals, such as sulphuric acid, gasoline and ammonia, into nearby water sources.

You don’t need us to tell you how much of an impact cocaine production is having on the biodiversity of the flora, fauna and on local indigenous people across Central America.

// Suffice It To Say, It’s Devastating //

young kate moss
Photo: Kate Moss photographer unknown via Pinterest

We also know that there are massive risks to the people in or near cocaine production too.

After cocaine is made, it is trafficked to the narcotics hub that is Mexico. But drug related conflicts have meant that around 47,000 people have been killed in the crossfires of Colombia’s drug war since 2006, whilst in Mexico there were 164,000 murders between 2007 and 2014 – 34-55% of which can be attributed directly to cartels.

Just to put that into perspective, 164,000 murders over 8 years equals around 20,500 each year. In the UK, our murder rate is usually between 500-600 per year.  That makes Mexico 3316 times more deadly than the UK.

So how is it that we’ve become so accepting of cocaine, even though it’s literally a product of murder and environmental destruction?!

Is it because we just don’t think about it deeply enough or see the direct harm? The truth is, it’s easy to see how we might be completely detached from the repercussions. For one thing, it’s quite likely that we don’t even notice any long-term personal effects from taking coke if our snorting habit isn’t too extensive – you’re probably more likely to feel the pain in your wallets than your body because health wise, there are much worse things you could be doing.

Smoking is definitely one of them. 100,000 people die each year from diseases caused by smoking such as heart disease and lung cancer. Wanna know how many people die each year in the UK because of cocaine? Less than 400. And while that rate may be slowly rising, cocaine is just nowhere near as dangerous as tobacco in the long run. And alcohol isn’t much better. Fatalities directly linked to alcohol (such as cirrhosis of the liver) and indirectly linked (such as car accidents) are at around 40,000 per year. Still 100 times more deadly than cocaine.

But all this isn’t to say that cocaine is completely without its health risks. After all, there are nosebleeds, bouts of insomnia, emotional comedowns and psychological residues to contend with if you’re a moderate user, and deviated septums if you’re a heavy one. The likelihood that you’re sniffing some pretty grim chemicals such as livestock dewormer is fairly high too.

And when all is said and done, it’s still worse for you than doing a bit of MDMA, apparently.


Photo: Helen Twelvetrees by Sam Hood

All this has probably been enough to make you want to delete your dealers number.

But just in case it hasn’t, what else could you do to at least reduce the impact of your coke habit?

Well the first step in the right direction is just being aware of all the consequences, as we’ve already discussed. If you need an extra nudge, just remember that 1) a single line of coke has the same carbon cost as binging on Netflix for 151 hours straight and 2) the same criminal networks that smuggle drugs can also smuggle other things – such as people or guns. At least then we can make the decision about whether or not to share that next gram with our wits about us.

We might also wonder why cocaine isn’t legal and what the world might look like if it was. It would have to be heavily regulated for sure. But the likelihood is that that won’t ever happen, at least not in our lifetimes.

Ultimately, it’s a weird one, because as a society we have established a double standard where we can buy organic vegetables, reject sweatshops and worry about whether our coffee is fair-trade, yet still snort lines at the weekend.

And that really is a pretty odd state of affairs.

By Fable & Matter

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