The dark web is changing how people buy illicit drugs. In the past two years, those who bought drugs from dark net markets increased from nearly eight percent to 15 percent, according to the Global Drug Survey. While most people are still buying from street dealers, the global trend toward online cryptomarkets should probably have drug cartels worried.
While these markets are difficult to study thanks to their secrecy, a researcher wrote programs to crawl about 90 cryptomarkets every week from December 2013 to July 2015. The Economist analyzed data from three marketplaces: Agora, Evolution and Silk Road 2, and found that marijuana was the most popular drug.
According to the analysis, cannabis accounted for 38,000 sales out of 360,000. MDMA was also popular (with the highest sales by value), as were prescription drugs like oxycodone and diazepam. But dark-net cannabis sales are likely much higher than the Economist thought:
A third of sales did not belong in any of our categories: these included drug kit such as bongs, and drugs described in ways that buyers presumably understood, but we did not (Barney’s Farm; Pink Panther; Gorilla Glue).
The magazine didn’t know what to make of a third of the data, but its examples of confusing sale terms all had something to do with weed. Whether it was specific cannabis strains or cannabis seeds, sales of the drug might be much higher than the analysis suggests.
While there’s no way to know exactly what percentage of the uncategorized drugs were cannabis-related, we suspect a good portion of dark-web cannabis consumers are purchasing specific strains. Despite the dangers of ordering an illicit substance online, harm reduction organizations often recommend buying from such marketplaces because their review systems allow for some measure of quality assurance.
Unlike most other countries, the dark web prices for cannabis are lower than street prices in the U.S. The same holds true for Australia and Canada. But generally speaking, buying drugs from cryptomarkets is more expensive, as vendors need to take into account the higher costs of mailing drugs.
But consumers are probably getting their money’s worth if you take into account drug purity levels: A Spanish think tank that lab tests drugs from the deep web found that they tend to be much better quality. While average street cocaine contains only 30 to 40 percent of the stuff, the lab has tested samples with 100 percent purity.
“That’s really, really strange. That means that, technically, this cocaine has been purified, with clandestine methods,” said Fernando Caudevilla, the physician who started the deep web drug lab.
The trend towards buying drugs on the dark web will probably continue its upward trajectory. Even when the feds shut down marketplaces, new ones pop up right away. But those looking to score cheap, good weed should proceed with caution and beware that the deep web is full of feds and scammers.