The internet has changed the world forever. Its introduction into our homes, communities, workplaces and social spaces has fundamentally shifted every manner of interaction. For many, the internet has been miraculous: it educates people all across the planet, it expands the reach of resources and it ultimately glues us all together within its binary web of information and connectivity. But it also comes with a curse.
One corner of the internet has become a marketplace for the buying and selling of all things illegal: the dark web. This is where drug trades, weapon sales, human trafficking and a number of other illegal operations are conducted behind the veil of internet anonymity.
In this article, we'll focus on the purchase of drugs online, what the dark web really is, its dangers, how to tell if someone uses it and the best advice if you're concerned for someone using it.
One of the bigger changes the internet has introduced to the global marketplace is the ability to find, purchase and receive goods without ever leaving the comfort of home. And the convenience is noticeably wonderful. But it also allows for the purchase of illegal drugs online, making some homes the scene of a drug transaction—often with parents or partners having no idea—and thus circumventing the need for either a prescription or pharmacy, or the visit to a drug dealer in person.
Purchasers of illegal drugs are cautious in their transactions: they generally would not buy or sell drugs online over the World Wide Web—also known as the clear net or surface web—because their IP address would be traceable. Instead, they prefer the anonymity of the dark web.
Most web users spend their time on the surface web which makes up only a small fraction (an estimated five percent) of the internet. The majority of the internet (an estimated 95 percent) exists within the deep web, unindexed by search engines like Google and Bing. The dark web lives within the deep web, and it requires specific software, configurations and authorization to access.
Once someone has access, they can use its dark web markets to anonymously purchase without prescription any drug they want from online dealers or illegal online pharmacies. And the cryptocurrencies—digital currencies with strong cryptography—that users often trade with add extra layers of anonymity, keeping secret any personal information about location or identity.
Much like the surface web, the dark web is made up of friend-to-friend and peer-to-peer networks, along with larger popular networks like Tor, Freenet and Riffle. The most popular Tor network is Silk Road—an online black market that allows anonymous browsing without any traffic monitoring.
Silk Road was the first dark market of its kind, and it's best known for the buying and selling of illegal drugs online. Silk Road launched in 2011, and although it was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigations by 2013, it took less than a month for its successor, Silk Road 2.0, to launch. Silk Road 2.0 was then shut down once again in 2014, and the United States government later seized more than $1 billion worth of Bitcoin in November 2020.
If it's illegal, it's likely found on the dark web, usually in dark markets or online pharmacies where buyers can leave a review just like Amazon or Yelp. This includes:
Data suggests that almost 40 percent of the revenue from drug sales on the dark web is from marijuana. The next most popular drugs, making up about 30 percent of sales, are stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Followed closely behind are ecstasy-type drugs at around 20 percent.
The United States leads the world in the cryptomarket-share of drugs being sold on the dark web, followed by the UK and Australia.
Because people are anonymous on the dark web, many people are falsely lulled into a sense of security when they purchase medications or illicit drugs online. But there are lots of unforeseen risks associated with these purchases, stemming from:
And although the dark web offers anonymity for its user base, someone can still be arrested for buying or selling drugs on the dark web, which can result in a federal drug trafficking offense due to the national and international nature of these transactions.
There are a few tactics someone should use to determine whether someone they know might be purchasing drugs or engaging in other illicit trades through the dark web: