High levels of illicit drugs found in Baltimore's streams

Drugs Found in Baltimore's Urban Streams

Baltimore's streams might have illicit drugs running through the waters — we're talking stuff like amphetamines.

Researchers sampled six stream sites, both rural and urban, over three weeks in Baltimore. The team wanted to know how illicit and pharmaceutical drugs affect underwater ecosystems.

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One of the researchers notes those drugs enter the environment through "human consumption and excretion, manufacturing processes, or improper disposal."

High levels of amphetamines and other compounds were found in the streams. And it turns out hardcore drugs are just as bad for fish as they are for humans.

Close up, microscopic photos of notable drugs

Close up, microscopic photos of notable drugs
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Close up, microscopic photos of notable drugs

Cross section of dried marijuana petiole, stained with toluidine blue and illuminated using darkfield microscopy. Magnified 40x.

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Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of heroin (diamorphine). Heroin is a powerful narcotic and painkiller that is derived from morphine. Its use in medicine is restricted because it is highly addictive after only a short period of use. Heroin is abuse

(Photo by Edward Kinsman via Getty Images)

Scanning Electron Microscope (sem) image of crack cocaine. The calibration bar is 20 um and the magnification is 284x.

(Photo by Edward Kinsman via Getty Images)

98% Pure Meth 

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Stock photo of a pile of spice. This is a synthetic cannabinoid that is legal in some US states, illegal in others. Commonly used by marijuana smokers as a replacement drug.

(Photo by Darren Mower via Getty Images)

Polarised light micrograph of aspirin.

(Photo by Images Etc Ltd via Getty Images)

Transmission Electron Micrograph (TEM) of Acetaminophen (Tylenol) crystals. Magnification 7x at 35mm.

(Photo by MICHAEL W DAVIDSON via Getty Images)


The drugs actually suppressed the levels of biofilm in specific areas of the streams. Less biofilm — what we know as algae and fungi — means less food for animals higher up on the food chain.

To find a more concrete correlation, the team created an artificial ecosystem in a lab. They exposed plants, rocks and other elements to the same levels of amphetamines found in the urban streams.

And in a span of only three weeks, the artificial stream showed signs of change. Like with the natural stream, biofilm didn't grow at the normal rate, and bugs showed up sooner.

Amphetamines are used to treat conditions like attention deficit disorder and obesity. But other stimulants similar to those are also found in ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Baltimore isn't the only place with contaminated water concerns. Just last month, reports surfaced that a Colorado town's water supply was contaminated with THC — a chemical found in marijuana. Those reports, however, turned out to be false.

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