This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
Let's say you wake up one day and decide to start your own drug lab. You bribe a farmer in a remote area, take over one of his barns and install yourself inside. Now what?
Take to the dark web, of course, where all questions about both making and selling drugs are answered. Where it is perfectly acceptable to ask: "Can you recommend a step-by-step video tutorial on how to make speed?"
"Dread" is a dark web platform where you can find information about the many boring things involved in manufacturing and selling drugs. Like: if you want to send out an unsuspicious-looking envelope, do you write the address by hand or go for a printed sticker?
Obviously it's impossible to know exactly who is answering these questions – it could be a 12-year-old having a laugh for all you know – which is one of the many reasons that it would be unwise to take anything on the forum as sound advice.
Most questions on Dread's d/DrugManufacture forum are about the machines that make ecstasy pills. For instance, how in the world do you make pills that have two different coloured layers? The answer is pretty simple: "To make two-coloured pills, you need an industrial pill press. It's a press with two moulds that hold the powder, which are pushed together at the same time," says a forum member. That inspires the next logical question: how do you get your hands on a machine like that?
You can imagine that ordering a pill press online and having it delivered to one's house might spike the interest of customs agents. The subforum on Dread provides answers. One tip: "Don't order it in the United States," because apparently they heavily monitor pill press orders.
Not so long ago, Reddit was the place to talk about drugs on the regular internet. Since the start of this year, however, talking about buying drugs on the site has become strictly prohibited, so the community has made its way to the dark web, where nobody cares what you talk about. This transition has brought a few changes, especially when it comes to privacy. All shared information is encrypted several times before it's sent to the forum's servers. Search engines no longer show any responses on threads and the forum double-checks privacy settings. If they need to be changed, a message pops up to warn a user: "Be careful, your identity could be exposed."
Dread has banned sharing personal information, according to a pinned post at the top of d/DrugManufacture. Another rule: don't tell anyone where you get raw materials to make whatever drug you're cooking up. If that information gets out, the police could track down the suppliers, which "ruins it for everyone".
After reading through the rules of the group, users are allowed to ask as many questions as they want.
"A popular way to get cocaine across the border, is to turn it into a liquid and spray it on your clothes."
Say you have been able to successfully follow the steps outlined to make cocaine; the next question could be how to get it across a border. The most popular recommendation is to turn it into a liquid and spray it on your clothes. But what do you use to liquify the cocaine? Acetone? No, says one forum member: cocaine doesn't dissolve in acetone, but in water.
Though you could ask almost any question that comes to mind about making, smuggling and selling drugs, offering drugs in exchange for money is off limits on Dread. According to the moderators, Dread is a forum, not a marketplace.
In the subgroup d/DarkNetMarkets, you can find reviews of drug dealers on the dark web. Additionally, a "vendor super list" has been created that aims to split the trustworthy from the scam artists, while detailing specific dealers' delivery times and the quality of the drugs they sell.
Dealers aren't allowed to offer their products for sale on the platform, but there are no rules against advertising their business. The Psych Charm, for instance, tries to lure the site's users into their web, where they sell LSD. Or Dutch Drugz, a dealer from the Netherlands who says he sends drugs like 2C-B, DMT and ketamine to a lab first to make sure the quality is up to par, then sells them for "a low price".
These ads point to a new internet trend. Ten years ago, every drug dealer with an online presence sold on one central market place: Silk Road. That first crypto market was kind of like Craigslist, but for illegal goods. Drugs, weapons, passports, all were bought and sold through the one single crypto market. Those days are over; there are now dozens of these sites – like GammaGoblin, the largest LSD retailer on the dark web.
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Last year, Dutch police announced a joint sting operation with other countries, which resulted in the simultaneous shutdown of the two largest crypto markets: Hansa Market and AlphaBay. Over the course of a few weeks, detectives secretly took control of the two digital marketplaces, accessing conversations that are usually encrypted. Some users who'd ordered drugs got a surprise visit from police, while those who'd ordered more than they would need for personal use were prosecuted. Law enforcement wanted people to know that even the dark web doesn't guarantee protection.
Ultimately, though, the result of the police sting was that a few Dutch teenagers got a scare and two founders of Hansa Market and AlphaBay were arrested. But online criminals already seem to have forgotten all about that episode; there are still plenty of people buying and selling drugs on the dark web as if nothing happened.
Disclaimer: We do not recommend you start manufacturing your own drugs, even if you've gathered all the relevant advice on a dark web forum.