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How the Dark Web Increased Drug Addiction

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 17, 2023

Table of Contents

Just like e-commerce has changed the way we do business, so the internet has dramatically impacted the landscape of drug dealing in the twenty-first century.

Imagine online marketplaces allowing you to order a kilo of marijuana or an ounce of cocaine with the same ease as buying books on Amazon.

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Well, these marketplaces have been a reality since Silk Road disrupted the way people buy drugs back in 2011. Rather than the physical trade route the original Silk Road is famous for, the online version offered people the chance to buy almost any conceivable drug and have it delivered to their door via the regular postal system.

This virtual trade in narcotics encompasses just about any drug you can think of, from Quaaludes and fentanyl to more workaday choices like weed, cocaine, and meth. Where once this marketplace was entirely criminal, the modern version has the focus firmly placed on convenience.

Now, it goes unsaid conducting this kind of business online would ordinarily bring about unwanted scrutiny from the authorities. To avoid this, sites selling narcotics typically use the dark web. To understand the logistics of buying illegal drugs online, you need to have a clear understanding of how the internet works in the broader sense.

Before we look into this, it is important to note that anyone who is dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction should seek help immediately. Renaissance Recovery is a treatment community that has partnerships with Orange County rehabs and offers sober living homes to all clients who need it.

What Is The Deep Web?

The internet is composed of three layers:

  • Surface web
  • Deep web
  • Dark web

The upper layer contains all web pages indexed by search engines like Google, the Renaissance Recovery website, for example.

Beneath the surface, the deep web contains all pages search engines are unable to access. This doesn’t denote anything sinister. Pages that are accessible via passwords, work intranets, Amazon and Netflix pages, and your Messenger inbox are all examples of deep web content. To access any of these pages, you would need to input the precise URL, or click a link taking you there from elsewhere in the deep web.

So, the upper two layers of the internet might not all be entirely visible, but the content is not inflammatory.

How about when things get deeper and darker, though?

What Is The Dark Web?

Just like the deep web, the dark web is not indexed by or accessible through search engines. For drug dealers and anyone looking to buy narcotics, this is an asset, even if it makes access slightly inconvenient.

While it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the scope of the deep web, most estimates hover around 5% of all internet activity being dark.

One 2015 study of 2723 dark web sites showed 57% hosting illicit material.

Into The Web of Profit, a 2019 study, indicated that 60% of all dark web listings could be harmful to enterprises. This doesn’t take account of those properties selling drugs, either.

So, the first key difference between the deep web and the dark web is that the latter tends to host contentious material.

The other key variation between these two non-indexed areas of the web is the means of access. You can’t just type the URL of a dark web site into Google, even if you know the address. We’ll look now at what you need to do in order to buy drugs on the dark web.

Dark Web Basics

The dark web is not an easy space to navigate for newcomers, but it’s really not that hard.

You’ll need to use an anonymizing browser like Tor (the onion router). Tor has many legitimate use cases for those seeking privacy online, or for those prevented from accessing sites due to censorship in any given country.

When you use the Tor browser, your web page requests are routed through a sequence of proxy servers. This smokescreen ensures that your IP address is untraceable.

While this method ensures your anonymity, it makes the browsing experience sluggish. The connection is not always robust, and it’s often unreliable.

Although dark web search engines exist, they find it hard to keep up with the continuously shifting landscape. Grams was an early example, now superseded by Kilos, a search engine offering almost 70,000 listings from 7 different marketplaces.

Once you’re in, dark websites look much like any regular site on the clear web.

The first key difference is in the naming structure. Rather than ending with the usual .com suffix or similar, dark websites have a top-level domain suffix of .onion. You’ll need a browser like Tor equipped with the right proxy to access the site.

Beyond this, sites use a scrambled naming structure. A dark marketplace called ToRRez, for instance, has the unintelligible URL: 

  • yxuy5oau7nugw4kpb4lclrqdbixp3wvc4iuiad23ebyp2q3gx7rtrgqd.onion

Quite a mouthful!

Dream Market has a slightly shorter though still randomized URL (eajwlvm3z2lcca76.onion).

So, if you have the right browser and you know where you’re going – to do that, you’ll need something like the Hidden Wiki – navigating the dark web should be easy if often frustrating. 

How is it possible to buy drugs online, then?

Trading on the Dark Web

The ease with which people can buy and sell illegal drugs online is thanks to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Despite all of the anonymizing features making up the dark web, using your credit card to buy drugs leaves an obvious and easily traceable footprint. Making a transaction in crypto is a much safer option for anyone looking to buy illicit goods.

As you would expect, there are plenty of scammers and criminals in what is essentially one sprawling illegal marketplace. How, then, can you buy drugs online with any kind of confidence?

Well, just like Amazon or eBay, sites selling drugs on the dark web flourish in part thanks to a system of user reviews. That said, the fact users are anonymous means this system is open to manipulation.

person leaning against wall with hand over face due to drug addiction due to the dark web

Beyond this, most marketplaces will hold funds in escrow until the product arrives. This gives you some redress, even if resolving a dispute is not straightforward. 

Another security issue of doing business online is the proliferation of exit scams with sites suddenly closing and taking everyone’s funds with them.

So, how did we get to the stage where you can choose from thousands of different drugs from vendors all over the world?

It Started with Silk Road

Silk Road was a black market digital platform where users conducted illegal transactions like buying drugs using bitcoin.

The first truly successful darknet market was only live for two years between 2011 when it was founded by Ross Ulbricht, and 2013 when it was shut down by the FBI.

Operating under the alias Dread Pirate Roberts, Ulbricht made a commission on all drug sales. When the site was shut down for good by the FBI, the agency seized over 144,000 bitcoins. This crypto was valued at $122 million when seized. If the FBI still has those bitcoins, they would now be worth over $4.5 billion.

Vendors and customers from all over the world could buy and sell drugs across borders using nothing but the mailing service.

It’s believed that Ulbricht made some $80 million from those commissions in just two years. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Some site users were also arrested.

What happened next?

Dream Market and Beyond

The nature of the dark web is constantly evolving, so the loss of the Silk Road just led to a series of similar marketplaces filling the void.

Dream Market became the largest online marketplace for illegal drugs with the Dread Pirate Roberts finding his ship dead in the water. From drugs and stolen data to counterfeit goods of all descriptions, Dream Market thrived until the site was shut down in April 2019, the owner having been arrested two years previously.

As we mentioned earlier, these marketplaces continue to come and go, but here are a handful currently live:

  • Cannazon: Marketplace dedicated to all things weed-related with 2500 listings and 200 vendors
  • Empire Market: Founded in 2018, Empire Market has 1 million users browsing over 50,000 listings from 4500 vendors worldwide. This is the largest darknet marketplace today
  • Hydra: An illegal Russian marketplace established in 2015, Hydra saw over $1 billion in sales during a three-year period to 2019
  • Versus: A user-friendly marketplace founded in late 2019, you can buy all kinds of drugs on Versus
  • White House Marketplace: A smaller marketplace with a sharp focus on security, you can buy drugs and a range of other illicit services and products on WHM

So, having seen how relatively straightforward it is to buy drugs online, is it safe to do so?

Why Buying Drugs On The Dark Web Can Be As Dangerous as Buying Drugs in a Dark Alley

For consumers looking to buy drugs, whether that’s a bag of weed, some prescription painkillers, or a wrap of heroin, the perceived anonymity of the dark web means it can seem like an attractive alternative to physically sourcing narcotics.

When you also consider the disruption to global supply chains caused by the coronavirus pandemic over 2020, it might seem like the ideal time to buy drugs online.

The reality is, there are many dangers lurking when you start doing business on the dark web, especially if your end goal is illegal drugs.

Firstly, prices on the dark web tend to be higher than street drugs. You’re paying a premium for anonymity, ease, and convenience.

Also, you obviously have no idea what you’ll be receiving. Heroin could be cut with fentanyl, prescription pills might be counterfeit, and rarities like Quaaludes are often bootlegs.

For anyone addicted to drugs, waiting for supplies to arrive in the post – if they are not intercepted en route – can be challenging when there is a delay.

If you’ve ever considered buying drugs on the dark web, be aware that law enforcement agencies are fully aware of what’s going on. Many unsuspecting buyers have had DEA agents showing up at their door rather than the package of drugs they were hoping for. Buying drugs online exposes you to the risk of federal drug charges.

The other clear and present danger is being uncertain of what you’re getting when you buy from an anonymous dealer online.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom on the dark web, and neither is it a lawless jungle, even if the marketplace operates outside of laws.

Dark Web Polices Itself and Bans Fentanyl

Many dark web suppliers have started to voluntarily ban fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid, as it’s just too dangerous.

This opioid can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and many vendors are delisting fentanyl as a commodity too risky to trade.

For the first time, we’ve seen an illicit marketplace on the dark web regulating itself with safety in mind since marketplaces stopped taking listings for hitmen. Even if the decision was made for commercial reasons – fatalities are bad for business – the removal of a drug as lethal as fentanyl is highly encouraging.

Not Everything on The Dark Web is Bad

To wrap up today, we’ll reiterate that buying drugs on the dark web with cryptocurrency and having them mailed to your door is an increasingly popular choice for many drug users the world over. While initially confusing and often slow and frustrating, navigating the dark web really isn’t hard. 

While we don’t condone the use of the dark web for purposes like trading narcotics, there are legitimate use cases for this portion of the internet.

Many people the world over have the need for an anonymous channel of communication due to the censorship in place in some countries.

There’s also a repository of material you can’t find on the surface web, from rare books to political news and whistleblowing sites.

Many legitimate companies are starting to carve out a dark web presence just to show they are edgy and aware.

Beyond this, law enforcement agencies can use the dark web for data tracking purposes.

Getting Treatment for Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Now, if you’re addicted to drugs of any kind it is important to get the treatment you need to help you overcome and conquer this addiction.

You’ll be exposing yourself to all kinds of danger, even if it seems like an innocuous and anonymous environment. You could easily get scammed, possibly purchase dodgy drugs, and potentially even end up with a felony charge. 

Instead, pick up the phone and call the friendly team at Renaissance Recovery at 866.330.9449 and we’ll help you avoid temptation and get back on track.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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