IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF COCAINE AND MARIJUANA?
What is the ecological significance of plants that produce recreational
drugs like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana? Does their production cause
inventory of plant products worldwide that people inhale, drink, eat,
or inject for pleasure, sometimes with addictive consequences, would
be near endless. A list of their environmental impacts would be equally
lengthy. When popular botanical products are sold on an international
scale, the plants must be grown in large quantities. The ecological
effects of such broadscale agricultural practices are devastating to
native plants and animals and their habitats. Whether the final product
is sold legally or illegally does not matter.
practices that promote growing a particular plant as a monoculture on
a commercial scale inevitably lead to the local demise of native species.
A basic ecological principle is that plants compete with each other
for space and resources. When humans are involved in ensuring the welfare
of a marketable species, wild native plants will eventually be reduced
in numbers and perhaps even eliminated entirely. The loss of such native
plants means wild animals that depend on them will also decline in numbers.
(as well as morphine, codeine, and the once-ubiquitous paregoric that
relieves upset stomachs in babies) is produced from the opium poppy.
The poppy family includes hundreds of species of often brightly colored,
aromatic plants. The opium poppy is the only species within the family
grown commercially on a large scale. The largest crops are in Afghanistan.
Growing wild, none of the many kinds of poppies have significant negative
environmental impact on the habitat. Some species are pollinated by
bees, flies, and beetles and may be important in providing nourishment
to these insects. The overall environmental impact of poppies can best
be measured by how much land is cultivated for opium poppies, thus making
it no longer available for native species in their natural habitats.
American coca plant, from which cocaine is derived, belongs to a family
with more than 200 species. Like the opium poppy, coca is the best known
of the species in the family. One attribute of coca, based on a well-known
scientific study, is that "cocaine functions in plants as a natural
insecticide." However, the major environmental impact is primarily
a consequence of cultivation practices. The cocoa tree from which cocoa
powder and chocolate are made is also native to tropical America but
belongs to a different family from the coca plant.
is different from the other two groups of plants in that Cannabis
is grown everywhere in the world except the Arctic and Antarctic, and
the geographic origin of the ancestral species is uncertain. A common
tree in the same family is the hackberry. Opium poppies and coca have
their greatest environmental impacts as a result of agricultural-scale
planting and the elimination of natural habitat. Ironically, the greatest
negative environmental impact from the planting of marijuana may be
caused by law enforcement efforts to destroy the crops. Such environmental
disruption probably has detrimental effects on the natural habitat where
marijuana is being grown. A by-product of the legalization of marijuana
could be a decrease in environmental destruction by law officers trying
to eradicate marijuana crops.
the hugely popular recreational drug known as alcohol has even more
far-reaching environmental consequences than the drugs mentioned above.
Sources of alcohol-based drinks include fruits, berries, grains, roots,
and stems from a staggering array of plant species. Some popular alcoholic
beverages - for example, sake, bourbon, and beer - are produced from
common, widespread agricultural grains such as rice, corn, and barley.
Tequila is produced only from the blue agave in Mexico, which probably
helps keep the cool-looking plant around, but the agricultural processes
involved undoubtedly affect other native species. In truth, widespread
production of all manner of goods derived from plants - from drugs to
dog food to seersucker - has some kind of environmental impact. It's
the nature of people to change nature to suit themselves.
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