Drugs From Darknet Markets Are Higher In Purity, Report Says

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A new report reveals that drugs purchased from the darknet markets like Silk Road may be of higher purity than those bought from street dealers. In Chapter 6 of the report titled “The Internet and Drug Markets” under section “Quality and Harm Reduction,” it is noted that the quality of the drugs purchased from darknet markets tended to be higher.


According to an FBI statement released in 2013, samples of drugs purchased from Silk Road have typically shown higher purity levels as advertised in the site when subjected to laboratory testing. On the other hand, many of the drug users who had purchased ecstasy from street dealers earlier on have found that the pills contained inferior PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine) or piperazines instead of MDMA. Similarly, those who bought LSD found out that they were ingesting 25i, a toxicity which is not usually found in LSD. Users reported few, if at all any, substitutions when they purchased drugs from Silk Road.

The report pointed out that in the case of 120 samples out of 129 online drug purchases (93 per cent), only psychoactive substances were detected. The mean purity level of cocaine samples was slightly more than 70 percent compared to the average purity level of 38 percent found in street samples that were seized in 2013 in the UK.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction or the EMCDDA report states that users of the darknet markets such as Silk Road felt they were getting value for the money they spent. The report also noted that the customer feedback model that worked well on sites e-commerce sites such as eBay was also effective in the case of online black markets. While sellers who offered products as described enjoyed repeat purchases, regular users of online black markets were sophisticated enough to spot faked or padded feedback.

Darknet Markets Change Online Drug Trade

DarknetAccording to the report, darknet markets like the Silk Road have been instrumental in significantly changing the way in which drugs are traded. While relationships between consumers and vendors are driven by trust and professionalism, user feedback systems and resolution models employed by them provide the necessary support.

The report also noted that darknet markets are also instrumental in reducing harm as their structure allows for the creation of virtual communities for sharing knowledge, information and experiences. Forums that are linked to these cryptomarkets provide user advice, product as well as transaction reviews and “trip reports.”

Posts in forums, feedback from users and control exercised by site administrators enable users to remain well informed as regards the quality of the products offered on sites like the Silk Road. Many vendors even state in these forums that their products have been subjected to lab tests and offer information as regards the purity.

While users can also leave their opinions as regards the quality of the products they purchased and the experiences they had with vendors, many vendors frequently communicate directly with the users and announce the availability of a new batch of a specific substance, provide advice on safe use, openly discuss quality – purity and adulterants. This system may be considered to be imperfect, but it does offer more reliable information to users than that which the traditional street drug dealers provide. Therefore, darknet markets like the Silk Road often provide some advantages as far as both sellers and buyers are concerned when compared with the street drug distribution system.

The report also provides an analysis of approximately 12,000 transactions carried on Silk Road and notes that wholesale level activity (transactions that are worth over $1,000) contributed to the generation of about 25 percent of the total revenue. Though such transactions provided evidence that a significant number of the Silk Road customers were drug dealers who were sourcing stock for their clients, the report noted that online drug sales is unlikely to be an alternative to traditional street dealings.

Additionally, the report points out that online drug sales represents only a tiny portion of the total global drug trade, but says that the cryptomarkets have the capacity to cut down the harm caused by traditional drug markets in some ways. This, potentially, boils down to the very fact that the quality of drugs obtained from online black markets like Silk Road might be better compared to those purchased from street dealers, which are often contaminated with harmful substances.

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Technologies Brought By Darknet Market Like Silk Road

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According to a report released by the European drugs agency, drug dealers are becoming tech savvy as online drug trade zooms.

Research carried out by EMCDDA – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – into online drug trade showed that darknet marketplaces like Silk Road ensure a safer environment for both the dealers and users of illicit substances.

The darknet marketplaces make use of feedback mechanisms that are similar to the ones used by sites like eBay. This helps customers to hold dealers accountable for the services provided by them. Secondly, remote access helps to eliminate violence, which is part and parcel of drug trade.

As such, it is important that online drug dealers develop excellent customer service and communication skills instead of muscle power.

The EMCDDA report published last Thursday lists out most recent evidence provided by experts on darknet marketplaces which became known to the public through Silk Road, which started operations in 2011. Silk Road continued its operations till the end of 2013 when the FBI shut down the site.

According to researchers, darknet markets or cryptomarkets like Silk Road became successful because they brought four technologies together. These are the Bitcoins (virtual currency or crypto currency), Tor (encrypted Internet protocol), Escrow and systems for customer feedback. This gave a great deal of confidence to buyers and sellers.

Additionally, the online black markets like Silk Road often sent products by mail. This helped to eliminate personal encounters between customers and dealers. Further, the innovations in the darknet marketplaces have led to the involvement of a different set of people in selling drugs. Therefore, the skills required to successfully operate such markets have also changed.

The findings of the researchers also include the following:

The purity of the drugs available in darknet markets is higher compared to those sold by street vendors.

Darknet markets are virtual brokers. Therefore, it is easy for them to link not only upper- and mid- as well as retail-level sellers and consumers.

People who use the darknet marketplaces are more sophisticated and tend to use drugs for recreational purposes.

One-fourth of the sales in darknet marketplaces are for wholesale quantities, costing as much as $1,000. This suggests that retail dealers are sourcing stock through these markets.

The next generation of darknet marketplaces would operate in a decentralized manner (peer-to-peer networks). This would make it more difficult for the police to catch them.

Judith Aldridge, a criminologist and one among the 30 specialists who co-authored the report, said that the darknet markets are being increasingly used for buying drugs and that this can potentially change the way global drug markets operate. However, she also pointed out that they have their own limitations as they rely on postal systems for delivering drugs. As a result, darknet markets may not be a viable option for large-scale drug importation and supply.


Additionally, she said that lifespan of darknet marketplaces like Silk Road tends to be limited, despite the growth in their popularity, because of mistrust amongst buyers and sellers, scams and law enforcement activities.

According to Steve Rollles, analyst from the pro-reform group Transform Drug Policy Foundation, the creation of online black markets like the Silk Road indicates the adaptability of drug dealers. He also noted that at best enforcement can only displace markets. They cannot eradicate them.

The European commissioner for citizenship, migration and home affairs – Dimitris Avramopoulos – opined that the darknet market is just evolving and, therefore, efforts should be on to eliminate it. Dimitris also called for efforts to stop the abuse of the internet by those involved in drug trafficking.

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The Effect The Original Silk Road Seizure Had On Other Black Markets

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According to the researchers studying online black markets, the number of listings for illegal products and services has actually gone up following the original Silk Road takedown (Silk road 2.0 is up and bigger than the original). At least one researcher believes this means the illegal trade will grow even more.

Silk Road Seized

Almost all of these markets use Bitcoin. James Martin, author of a new book on the subject, suggests that Bitcoin was utterly critical to Silkroad’s development and the developments of cryptomarkets in general. Silkroad mastermind, Dread Pirate Roberts, acknowledged this, calling it one of the “pillars of Silk Road.”

Changes in the Market after the Bust

Silk Road Busted

In the 6-month period following the original Silk Road closure, new “dark markets” appeared and illegal goods listings grew considerably, according to researchers from the Digital Citizens Alliance.

The non-profit group found the number of drug listings on the largest dark markets nearly doubled in that 6 month period to 32,029, versus six months earlier when the original Silk Road was taken offline. The group’s report looked at listings from 11 of the currently operational black market sites, six of which had been newly launched: Silk Road 2.0, Agora, Evolution, White Rabbit Anonymous Marketplace, Outlaw Market, The Pirate Market, and more.

On the other hand, a 2012 paper from Carnegie Mellon University computer engineering professor, Nicolas Christin, suggests that around 1.35 million BTC passed through Silk Road from 2011 until 2012, meaning the market’s transactions made up about 4.5% of all BTC transactions. It is still not clear, according to Christin, what the impact of the market’s closure had on the Bitcoin economy as a whole.

Nevertheless, it seems fairly clear that online black markets are popular among drug dealers for a simple reason: despite the risk of an FBI raid, they’re still safer than doing business the conventional way. For those who sell drugs, law enforcement is only part of the risk — a much bigger risk is someone trying to kill them and steal their stash of drugs.

For these dealers, online black markets help remove the “systemic violence” inherent to the narcotics business. Dark market vendors do not need assistance from the organized criminal gangs which usually take care of security and distribution in exchange for protection money. Consumers similarly don’t have to deal with potentially violent gang members either.

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