Generally speaking, the internet and social media are growing in popularity at considerably rapid rates and presently play a pivotal role in the sale, distribution and marketing of “quasi” legal drugs. The quasi-anarchic nature of online marketplaces is gradually imposing a myriad of changes in illegal drug scenarios, changing the drug market to a virtual rather than a street perspective, with buyers capable of shopping with considerable levels of anonymity 24/7 via many online marketplaces. Actually, the emergence of Web 2.0 has boosted the availability of various communicative and interactive tools including blogs, fora, SNS etc., which has made it simple and easy to share and distribute pharmaceuticals and drug related info, including those focusing on illegal drugs.
Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Youtube, Tumblr etc., are facilitating the exchange of messages via computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets among members of various interrelated groups and thus, offer novel opportunities for individuals all over the world to share information, opinions, experiences and links related to substance abuse. Many researchers have proven that social networks are being extensively employed by drug users in order to discuss and obtain drugs. This is especially more relevant for newly created drugs and it seems to be influenced by convincing and attractive marketing approaches.
The growth and capillary diffusion of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) online marketplaces and the availability of illicit and recreational psychoactive drugs have been more or less fueled by the advent of virtual currencies and anonymous transaction infrastructures. Furthermore, the high security levels of protected identities; the wide variety, high quality and novelty of available drugs, in addition to the ability to select vendors and communicate with them, have further catalyzed and deployed these online marketplaces and their attractiveness.
The great proportion of online drug marketplaces, especially those selling illegal drugs, are hosted on the deep web. Accordingly, the deep web has recently been examined by researchers in the field of drug addiction for its relevance regarding the marketing and distribution of illegal drugs, and more recently, for its pivotal role in the supply chain of NPS. Today, the world wide web has been transformed into an “anarchic free-market world” across which legislation involving drugs is being outpaced by technology and chemistry. A recently published paper aimed at presenting an overview to psychiatrists and addiction professionals on present knowledge about illegal drug activities taking place on the deep web. The terms psychonauts is currently being used to describe online bloggers, social media users, fora etc., who share knowledge regarding NPS, illegal drugs and how to obtain them via the deep web.
Methodology of the study:
A non-participant netnographic qualitative study that involved a list of illegal drugs and pro-drug websites (fora, blogs and drug marketplaces), which are hosted on the surface web, was conducted. Netnography represents a novel methodology of qualitative research that deploys an ethnographic approach in order to study cultures and various online communities. An internet search was performed via Google and Duckduckgo using the following keywords; legal highs, drugs, NPS and novel psychoactive substances combined with the keyword “deep web”. The researchers analyzed the first 10 pages of the obtained search results and then selected only relevant information and data with emphasis on NPS. Approximately 8,640 threads were examined. 800 fora threads which were posted by 1,303 users were considered relevant and analyzed via the empirical phenomenological psychological (EPP) method. While following the EPP protocol, the collected data was presented in a Word document for further analysis using EPP’s five step method. Four themes were generated;
- How to access the deep web
- Darknet and the online drug trading sites
- Grams search engine for the deep web
Results and implications of the study:
The experiences and knowledge of blog users and pro-drug fora, or psychonauts, when it comes to the deep web and its role in the marketing and distribution of NPSs and pro-drugs are often published on websites on the surface web. This study was based on the fact that bloggers and fora who publish info about the deep web and online marketplaces have great experiences in using all darknet tools and how to obtain drugs from deep web marketplaces.
Even though the study found out some online marketplaces on the surface web, the deep web represents the major part of the online drug market, as it enables vendor and buyers to wind up their deals with considerable levels of anonymity. Deep web marketplaces function in an “e-Bay style” e-commerce way. Communications between vendors and buyers take place via encrypted messaging systems. Following the shutdown of Silk Road in 2014, many other deep web marketplaces emerged including Alphabay, Dream market. Agora and others. Services such as “Hidden Wiki” and “All You’re Wiki” often contain info about various darknet drug marketplaces.
The study also concluded that the subreddit r/DarkNetMarkets and the list of deep web marketplaces on deepdotweb.com represent informative sources regarding the best darknet marketplaces and the ones that turn out to be scams.