Drug Listing On Silk Road

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There might be some debate about what were the most popular drugs that were sold on the Silkroad, the online darknet market whose founder was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole? A study that was conducted by Professor Nicolas Christin, a Carnegie Mellon researcher, provides an answer. Christin’s research focuses on online crime and computer security and he’s the first researcher to come up with real measurements on Silk Road.


Professor Nicolas Christin
Silkroad founder Ross Ulbricht, who used the nom de guerre “Dread Pirate Roberts”, was sentenced on Friday 29 May 2015. He had faced a minimum of twenty years in prison after being found guilty on a range of charges, from money laundering to drug trafficking.

Nicolas and his team analyzed Silkroad daily from February 2012 to July 2012, and looked at the sale of approximately 24000 items. He and his team used a website crawling system and were able to create a detailed picture of the kind of goods that were being sold on the Silkroad and the revenues made by operators and sellers.

The team discovered that Silkroad was mainly used as a market for narcotics and controlled substances, including marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. Marijuana was the top selling drug and it represented 13.7% percent of sales. “Drugs” (that encompassed a wide range of illegal narcotics not further categorized by the sellers) represented 9%, “prescription” was 7.3%, cocaine 2.6%, MDMA 1.6% and heroin 1.5%.

Nicolas Christin notes in his paper that sixteen of the top twenty categories on the Silkroad are drug related, with “soft drugs” such as marijuana outselling “hard drugs” such as opiates. Nicolas wrote that “this presumably simply reflects market demand”.

According to the FBI, other categories, such as “digital goods” and “services” also offered illicit purchases such as pirated content and hacking services. The large “books” category included titles such as “Hacking for Beginners”. The 4th nondrug category was erotica.

BitcoinThe paper estimates Silkroad’s daily sales by counting the site’s customer feedback and using the average item prices, coming to an average daily volume of approximately 7700 bitcoins per day, or $ 1.22 million per month. At this rate, the Silkroad would have sold over $ 40 million in the thirty four months it was in operation.

That would not be surprising, since the average daily sales increased by 44% in just the months that were measured in the study, and most of the customers seemed to be satisfied with their purchasing experiences—around 98% of all posted feedback was positive.

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