There's cocaine in your wallet -- and that's a good thing!

When I was a kid in the eighties, a popular urban legend stated that a huge percentage of paper money contained trace amounts of cocaine. Depending on who was telling the story, the amount varied -- one person would say that it was 20 percent, another person would swear that it was 50 -- but everybody agreed that ordinary paper money was loaded with Bolivian marching powder.

Fast-forward twenty years, and the rumor still persists. This time, however, it is backed up with some serious evidence. A study taken a year ago determined that almost 80 percent of greenbacks contained trace amounts of cocaine. More recently, another study showed that the number is more like 90 percent.

There are a few theories about the variance between studies. One school holds that the shifting numbers represent a resurgent popularity in the pricey white powder; another holds that the drug numbers vastly change, depending upon where the bills come from. For example, cities tend to have more cocaine residue than rural areas.

One thing that everyone seems to agree about is that American currency has more cocaine than that of any other country. In the most recent study, 85 to 90 percent of greenbacks had cocaine, while only 12 to 20 percent of Japanese and Chinese bills showed the presence of the drug. While some may suggest that this indicates a stronger drug interdiction policy in these countries or more intense societal strictures against drug use, there is also the possibility that the issue might lie in the consumer culture of the respective countries.

While some bills get residue from direct contact with drugs, most receive it from contact with other bills. Cash-counting machines, ATMs, and old-fashioned commerce all push bills together, encouraging them to rub against each other. Although there is little doubt that America has a cocaine problem, it seems likely that the country's currency also tends to move around a lot more than most. If so, there is one aspect of the cocaine/cash connection that should make everyone's blood pump a little faster: If cash is getting contaminated, then it is moving. If it's moving, then people are exchanging it. And if people are exchanging it, then perhaps the economy is on its way to recovery. How's that for a silver lining?

One last note: Anyone hoping to get a buzz off of a handful of money will be seriously disappointed. The cocaine residue in question usually range between 0.006 micrograms and 1,240 micrograms. By comparison, a gram of cocaine would be enough to fill half a tea bag; a microgram is one millionth of that. In other words, your chances of catching a cold from a dollar bill are much greater than your chances of catching a buzz.

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