I have been following the online drug markets since 2012 when I first published a paper on‘Silk Road’, the virtual drug marketplace: A single case study of user experiences’ Speaking to this individual confirmed what I and others already knew that there were drug users who were knowledgeable about drugs of their choice and how to reduce the harms associated with these drugs.
‘I have never had a bad trip because I have always had a good
set and setting, good mind frame, I know my surroundings, well
prepared in terms of food, drink and a bowl to be sick in if I need
to. I have always taken the necessary steps to ensure it is a good
trip and nothing will or could go wrong.’
Seeking advice around optimum dosage and route of administration
for his purchases was described as a ‘two fold process’ where
he searched the online communities in ‘Erowid’ for user reviews and
dose reports, and administered and re-administered the drug based
on ‘common sense’ within the drug taking episode. He reported
never having a negative experience with drugs bought on ‘Silk Road’.
I then went onto undertake another study Surfing the Silk Road’: A study of users’ experiences as I wanted to discover more as what I believed was this site was reducing the harm to primarily to drug users. A number of reasons were emerging firstly I discovered that due to the rating system of the site this allowed buyers to purchase from vendors who had a good rating of 98%+ secondly I discovered that vendors were testing their products for purity and quality.
The street market is more risky for everyone. It doesn’t have feedback or rating available for every buyer to read. You are more likely to be involved with people who might not be concerned in your welfare.
‘The feedback system is revolutionary for a market like this. All
my fears about quality are gone. I know what I’m getting and I
know that it’s good. The Silk Road is a paradise for responsible
drug dealers. You have to be patient and you have to be smart to
get there and use it. Bit Coin isn’t easy to get and use. You have
to learn the ropes. But it’s totally worth it. It’s changed my life
The site was also a community of individuals who shared information harm reduction infomation with others , in a space where they felt safe to do so due the anonymity of Tor and because of the ethos of the forum
‘I advocate for harm reduction and the freedom of information
for individuals to use substances safely. Websites provide essential
information which allows me to make rational decisions
about using illegal substances safely’.
Following these two studies I undertook another study this time with Vendors. Responsible vendors, intelligent consumers: Silk Road, the online revolution in drug trading. I wanted to discover if Vendors did test their drugs before they sold them and were their really responsible vendors and how these differed from the ‘street dealers’
Silk Road is all about the quality – you sell bunk gear, you will get burnt onthe forum and your feedback so you lose sales. The forum is also great for what/what not to do with near enough any drug there is; best practices, dosage everything you need to know is all a quick search away on the forum.
Reputation on Silk Road is what keeps vendors in business. Your reputation is open to all. The seller who wants good business on Silk Road has to try and make every customer happy. Customer service has never been this good on the street market.
I think there should be a difference acknowledged between drugs people get hooked on and need to use daily and drugs that people do for recreation or creativity or whatever. I source from a select few whose products I’ve tested and tried. Not a batch of anything goes out from me without it tested by myself.I do not sell anything I don’t use myself. That is my moral standing and anything I sell on here is something I will happily use myself.
Much of the media publicity surrounding Silk Road I have found to be sensational and to be honest mis-informed. When ever an article about the site appeared before Silk Road 1.0 closed down and even when 2.0 opened it was always linked with Gun runners and other activities which I have never seen on Silk Road. Silk Road is more than just a site that sells drugs its a online community.
We saw a number of other online drug markets close in 2012 .Atlantis closed in 2012 citing security reasons a few weeks later Silk Road 1.0 hit the media headlines when the ‘alledged’ DPR RossRoss William Ulbricht was caught and the site was closed down in October and then Black Market Reloaded closed in December as $200,00 in bitcoins were stolen from the site
So where now for the hidden online drug market place , people will always want to buy drugs , people buy from these sites because generally the prices are cheaper than the street .Visible, open air drug markets tend to be more harmful per unit of use than hidden, closed drug markets Alex Stevens (2013)
For Vendors is a faceless transaction and their risk of being labelled a drug dealer is greatly minimised
Silk Road is far superior to traditional drug markets. It has a massive customer base that no other site will ever match. The opportunity to make money online is far greater than selling locally; even without moving lots of weight.
For me, it was very much the perfect storm. I found myself in a position where I had no job, no local connections and no real hope of change. I did however have many skills and experience with drugs, due to my recreational use and general interest.
A study conducted by O’Reilly,Ruane and Murphy (2011) highlighed the difficulties street dealers felt
- Recessionary effect as respondents said they could only by smaller amounts with cash now and some had moved completely from cash purchase to credit
- Its my job, too much depends on it. I have accumulated high amounts of debt it is like a revolving door. Your owed money and you owe money”
- There was also the sense that this was their identity not something that could be slipped out of
- “Always chasing money. Hiding if you had no money to pay your bill. The Paranonia is big. Ye worry about the police or who your selling too”
Many of the vendors I communicated with were expecting Silk Road 1.0 to close these vendors had a good customer base , at the same time the customers had a vendor that they could trust. These customers had a contact email and the PGP key therefore when 1.0 closed they could communicate via email, this way the vendor saved any transaction fees and possibly made more profit.
Vendors who are serious all they need to do is to gain trust and have a good customer base and then they can sell to customers via email and no one will know they wont need to advertise on sites.
Customers will try and stick with a ‘brand’ where they believe that they can obtain a quality product and where they receive good customer service. One of the main advantage Silk Road has over other competitors is that they have a loyal community who will as for as long as they safely can stick with the site.
More people are now moving to I2p which is an anonymous overlay network – a network within a network. It is intended to protect communication from dragnet surveillance and monitoring by third parties such as ISPs. There will always be a demand for drugs and there will always be sites coming online some will be scams and some will be legitimate. Online sites do disperse the drugs market , high profile street policing only succeeds at dispersing the street dealers into other areas however this can elevate the risks and harms associated with street dealing and drug use. Online markets are closed markets and therefore policies and strategies should recognise that visible, open air drug markets tend to be more harmful per unit of use than hidden, closed drug markets. Alex Stevens (2013)
If your interested in this subject area some good people to follow