Collages by Marta Parszeniew
It makes sense to read a review of something before you put it inside your body. Unfortunately, if drugs are that thing, it’s unlikely you’ll have been able to do much preparation—those guys driving tiny plastic baggies door to door tend not to publicize how boric acid-y their cocaine is. However, buy your drugs online—from deep web marketplaces like Silk Road 2.0, Agora or Evolution—and you’ll be able to read exactly how euphoric your MDMA is going to be, or what Japanese Happy 5's are and why anyone would ever want to take them.
The most prolific reviewer on the Agora and Evolution forums was a British guy with the username HydroBlowBack. During his time reviewing products for various online vendors, HBB was sent thousands of dollars worth of drugs for absolutely free, most of the time in mixed goodie bags containing some of the standards and a bunch of rare or untested chemicals. I’d link you to all his reviews here, but you’ll need to download Tor to open the link, and that’s a whole other thing. For now, here’s the chat we had over email (he wanted to stay anonymous for obvious reasons).
VICE: Hi, HBB. How long had you been writing reviews before people began sending you stuff for free?
HydroBlowback: First off I was paying for everything I ordered, until one day I messaged a vendor—whom I later went on to purchase from—enquiring about a sample of crystal meth. He agreed instantly, and a small sample of crystal arrived the next day completely free. Wanting to give something back in return, I offered to write him a review.
I did the same thing a few times and slowly began to get noticed. I made it clear I’d review any drug, which was attractive to vendors with more than one product as they could just chuck in what they liked and I'd review it. After a while I had quite a few “followers” who’d occasionally comment on my reviews. I was known as having a no shit approach to reviewing, which is what people want to see on the marketplaces.
When it got to the stage where people would send you big packages, would you initiate that every time?
I’d often message with information about who I am, what I do, and a link to my review page. As time went on, vendors knew who I was and would regularly be very keen for me to review for them.
Did you get any negative blowback?
I got some responses saying I was begging for drugs, etc, but I saw it as offering a service to both the vendor and the buyers. One of the last reviews I wrote had nearly 2,000 reviews last time I checked, so I think they gained a fair bit of attention. A lot of times I’d be asked by the vendors to review chemicals for them—or test two batches of the same drug in exchange for more when I’d tested them—and to just give my opinion with no review.
What kind of stuff were you sent?
Forgive me if I forget a few, but all the drugs I had for free—bearing in mind I'd review lots of different batches from different vendors, especially popular drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, heroin, and MDMA—were [a list of 37 substances, from crack, LSD, heroin, weed and quaaludes, through a bunch of research chemicals and stuff with names like 3-meo-pcp and Japanese Happy 5’s].
How much do you think that all came to, money-wise?
Thousands is the only thing I can say really, as it’s impossible to figure out. But it’s a lot—put it that way. It depends on how much I requested, but sometimes I’d get one package a day, sometimes five and sometimes none. I think eight separate packages in one go was the most I had.
Did it make you want to do more, the fact you were getting all this for free?
Yes it did, completely. I was hooked as much on seeing what I could review next as I was the drugs I was receiving. I spent an unnatural amount of time on the forums and marketplaces chatting to people and arranging reviews, and in the end it became a huge problem in my life.
Were there any specific drugs you were asking to review more than others?
As far as reviewing was concerned, it wasn't really to feed a certain addiction, it was just addiction to abusable drugs. It was a bonus on the rare chance I did a ketamine review, as I was addicted to K and alcohol at the time. I'd usually ask more for cocaine, heroin and meth reviews, as in my opinion they’re three of the most popular drugs, along with MDMA and cannabis, so vendors always wanted to have a good review behind them.
Is this becoming a trend at all, people requesting a complimentary mixed bag of drugs to review?
It is and it isn't. Don't get me wrong, a lot of people write the odd review, and some people write a few reviews, but there was never a constant on the markets. There was never a go-to reviewer, so I saw the opportunity and took it.
I noticed one guy getting pretty aggressive with you about a review. Was there a lot of that?
Yep. I made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies. I fell out with nearly every ketamine vendor on there for reviewing for a so-called scammer, who wasn’t a scammer at all—they just wanted to ruin his name and remove the competition. I’ve had childish hate threads made about me, people stealing my username on other marketplaces to trick people into thinking they were me.
At one point there was a rumor on the Agora forums that myself and about eight different people were all the same person, and that we owned Agora and my reviewing was a cover up for being a mod or admin of the forum. Madness. But, to be fair, when you have a whole load of drug dealers and users in one place on a non-moderated forum, shit’s gonna kick off at some point, and it regularly does.
What was the high point of your reviewing?
My best experiences were having the bundles of packages to open in the morning and seeing what goodies I'd been sent. The best combined package I reviewed was probably 10 grams of speed and eight of MDMA. Or another large combined sample was three Miffy 2C-B pills, 85 percent purity cocaine, two LSD blotters, MDMA, and two types of ecstasy pills. The worst was a guy who shipped a sample of S+ isomer ketamine from Italy with expensive postage, and when it arrived it wasn't even enough for a line. I asked how much he sent and he said enough for a night.
Reading some of your reviews, it seems like you’d go through stages—doing a lot and then dropping off for a bit.
That was because of the amount of different drugs I was taking. I still had a regular ketamine and alcohol habit at the time, and because of the nature of the drugs I would review—especially stimulants like crystal meth, which can keep me up for over two days at a time—I decided to do my reviews in bursts; I'd message a lot of vendors, then have a cool down week or two, then review again.
What are your thoughts on the culture of deep web drug markets? I’m assuming it’s something you enjoyed being part of.
There are a lot of positives and negatives involved here. On one hand, I've received a lot of drugs and never once sat face to face with another person; there was no chance of me getting harmed in the exchange. Drugs are often more expensive online, but you get what you pay for. Heroin ODs are often caused by the cuts the dealers have used—the average purity percentage of heroin in the UK is 30 or 40 percent, whereas up to 90 percent is available on the darknet markets.
I also don't have a clue who the person is I’ve ordered from, if I'm going to receive anything at all, or if what I'm going to receive is even the drug advertised.
Were you ever worried that something could go wrong? Did you have people there with you when you were taking the untested or stronger drugs?
I occasionally got worried about things like that, and no matter how good of an eye you have for drugs you can’t tell what cuts they have. I had an allergic reaction to a batch of heroin I was reviewing, and of course had to mention this in my review as it’s a serious health risk and could have been a lot worse than it was. Nine times out of ten I’d be alone when I reviewed drugs—a very risky way to do it that I advise against. Thing is, once addiction takes over, caution goes out the window and you take risks. It’s not wise and accidents do happen. I was just lucky to get out of what I was doing before anything serious happened.
Why did you decide to give up reviewing?
I gave up reviewing to give up drugs. A few personal life events happened, and a couple of hospital visits. My depression and anxiety got unbearably bad. Also, a very good friend of mine died from similar things to what I was doing. It all made me realize I wasn’t having fun any more, was extremely addicted to drugs in general, and needed help.
I started attending my local drug service again and this time stuck to it. As of now, I'm clean of any chemicals for a month tomorrow, and will be attending rehab at the end of next month for two months. I’ll then be volunteering at my local drug service with the intention of becoming a counselor and using my knowledge and experience of drugs to help others in similar situations to me.