Drug Buying on the Dark Web is Alive and Well

By Zachary Siegel 06/15/16

According to a recent survey, pot, MDMA, and LSD were the most commonly purchased drugs on the dark web. 

Drug Buying on the Dark Web is Alive and Well

Despite federal measures to shut down dark web marketplaces, drug users, now more than ever, are turning to them to buy narcotics, according to results from the newest Global Drug Survey (GDS). 

The GDS is the world’s biggest drug survey, which surveyed more than 100,000 people from over 50 countries, according to a press release. Many of the users surveyed are young and deeply embedded in the drug-using world, making the data all the more rich, and telling. 

“Given GDS recruits younger, more involved drug-using populations, we spot emerging drug trends before they enter into the general population,” says the release. 

The results from this year show that many more users are turning to dark web markets for their drugs. A total of 8,058 respondents out of 101,313 (8%) said they had used the dark web to obtain drugs—that’s up from around 5,000 in 2015, and 2,000 in 2014, Monica Barratt, who is part of the GDS team, told Motherboard.

Cannabis, MDMA, and LSD were the most commonly purchased drugs on the dark web, according to survey results. There were also large increases in cocaine and nitrous oxide purchases. 

Though the use of the dark web to procure drugs is on an upward swing, the majority of respondents said they do not make the technical trek onto the markets themselves. Typically, someone they know makes the purchase—usually for a group of people—and then hand-to-hand transactions are made in real life. Barratt noted this is largely due to the technical skill-set required to peruse these stealthy marketplaces. 

While law enforcement conduct lengthy and expensive dark web investigations, the drug markets remain stable. “Despite all of the disruptions from law enforcement efforts and takedowns that have been successful, as well as the exit scams and all of this kind of thing, people are still using these sites to access drugs,” said Barratt. 

This finding confirms what a previous study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found, which is that these markets are resistant to federal crackdowns, much the way drug markets in the real world flourish despite heavy policing. 

What ought to be clear by now—but sadly isn’t—is that altering our conscious experience of the world is a basic human tendency, which no amount of surveillance or consequences can destroy. Like in real life, drug users will continue using dark web markets to buy drugs, and “they’re doing so successfully, even if in that environment of volatility,” Barratt said. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.