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New Report Finds Drugs Bought On the Dark Net Have Higher Levels of Purity

It may seem like a no-brainer, but the rationale behind the finding is significantly more complex.
February 12, 2016, 7:43pm
MDMA crystals. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A new report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that illicit drugs bought on dark net markets—sites such as the now shutdown Silk Road, that operate in a subsection of the internet inaccessible via traditional web browsers—offer buyers higher drug purity than traditional "street" markets.

The study examined how digital services, from social media to online pharmacies, have affected the global drug trade, though its primary focus is the rise of cryptomarkets—anonymous online drug markets that exist on the dark net. The sites purportedly afford anonymity and, potentially, safety for buyers and sellers of illegal drugs.


The report comes at an interesting time for drug users, particularly in the club scene where fatal adulterants in MDMA have caused a distrust for the substance, in any form. On the complete other side of the spectrum, other recent accounts have shown that street-bought MDMA to be dangerously potent—as was the case at last year's ADE event in Amsterdam.

The report makes much of it's assessment based on information from the International Drug Testing Service—a non-governmental organization based in Spain. Beginning in 2014, the organization gathered drug samples exclusively from cryptomarkets over the course of a year. In total, they received 129 samples, which were then analyzed through gas chromatography. Granted, the sample size is not large, particularly because many different substances were being analyzed, and the report insists that the results cannot be taken as representative of the online market as a whole.

According to the report, in 93 per cent of samples tested, "the main result of the analysis was consistent with the information provided by the user"—that is, 93 per cent of the time the drug being advertised was in fact that drug.

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MDMA in either crystal or pill form tested particularly high, with 100 per cent of samples testing positive for MDMA, with purity levels between 80–100 per cent.

Cocaine quality also differed drastically; street seizures in the UK averaged around 38 per cent, but online samples were nearly double that at 70.4 per cent.

It may seem like a no-brainer that drugs bought online are purer than their street counterparts, but the rationale behind the finding is significantly more complex. The report indicated that the communal nature of many of these sites assists in the regulation of drug purity: "Many vendors communicate directly with users in forums… [the vendors] provide and share advice about safer use and openly discuss quality, purity, adulterants and advertisements."

The second major factor that influences purity are the rules enforced by the sites themselves during anonymous transactions. The report called attention to the prospect of violence during street dealing and face-to-face interaction—an element that is largely removed from online marketplaces. Instead, online reputations are at stake through feedback and other "regulatory mechanisms."

Gigen is on Twitter.