• How Do Illegal Drugs Affect the Environment?

Environmental Laboratory

How Do Illegal Drugs Affect the Environment?

Oct 19 2019

Concerns over the future of our planet are growing on an almost daily basis, with industry, transport and agriculture identified as some of the biggest contributors to environmental degradation. But what about less broadcasted factors? The illegal drug trade is notorious for the damage it can wreak on public health and national security, but it could have a debilitating effect on Mother Earth, as well.

In particular, the production of the highly popular drug drug MDMA – also known as Molly or ecstasy – has an unpublicised but seriously concerning impact on the environment. That’s because a key ingredient in the drug is found in the roots of rare trees in South East Asia, contributing to mass deforestation - one of the biggest environmental concerns facing the human race right now - and consumption of scarce resources to create a product banned by law.

Unhappy effect on the environment

MDMA earned its moniker from the ecstatic feeling it generates in the user, but the effect of the drug on the environment is far from a positive one. The most widely used illegal drug in the world, MDMA has been consumed at least once by all 18 to 25 years in the United States of America, according to recent statistics supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

However, this widespread consumption is having a detrimental impact on the environment far from American shores. Safrole oil, which is a vital component in the production of MDMA, is only found in the roots of the Mreah Prew Phnom, a tree native to Cambodia. In order to access that oil, millions of trees are destroyed each year, eliminating the carbon sink they provide and contributing to global deforestation.

It’s all in the process

As well as harvesting the tree roots themselves, the process used to make MDMA is also deeply damaging. Four Mreah Prew Phnom are used to make a single 180-gallon barrel of safrole oil, while up to six more can be felled and burned to serve as a fuel source for heating the oil to the adequate temperature. Despite the fact that the trees are protected by Cambodian legislation, parties operating outside the law are still destroying them for personal gain. Four years ago, as many as 3,200 litres of illegally sourced safrole oil were found buried in Cambodia.

The impact upon Mreah Prew Phnom might be the most pronounced aspect of the harm that MDMA does to the environment, but it’s not the only one. There’s also the consumption of other resources to consider (the scarcity of water as a resource is critical to the environment in Cambodia), as well as the emissions created in the manufacture of the drug. Taken all together, ecstasy clearly represents misery for planet Earth.


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