Survey: Silk Road Closure Didn’t Stop Dark Web Drug Surge

Drug sales on the dark web actually increased after the closure of bitcoin-only marketplace Silk Road, a new survey has shown.

Analysing over 100,000 responses from 50 countries, the Global Drug Survey found the number of users who reported buying drugs from dark marketplaces rose by 1.2% in 2014. The UK led this surge in demand, with 15.1% of British drug users buying from the dark web in 2014, a near-3% rise from the year before.

Established by Dr Adam Winstock, a doctor and consultant addiction psychiatrist since 2001, the independent research organisation seeks to reduce the harm caused by drug use by sharing its findings with the public.

Benefits and risks

Users said they were mainly attracted by the anonymity, reduced violence, better quality and cheaper drugs afforded by sites on the dark web.

Despite the apparent benefits of buying drugs on the dark web, the survey respondents also noted the risks of purchasing online, with data showing that buyers were mainly concerned with loosing money and not receiving their orders.

Dark web marketplaces have been known to vanish with people’s funds in the past. In March, online drug market Evolution disappeared amid allegations that its administrators had absconded with more than $12m worth of bitcoin.


Global Drug Survey 2015 comparisson
Graph via Global Drug Survey 2015


The publication of the survey comes after Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of drug bazaar Silk Road was sentenced to life in prison on narcotics and computer hacking charges.

During sentencing, US District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed the notion that the marketplace was a legitimate harm reduction exercise, adding that much drug violence happens “upstream” of users.

“Poppies for heroin come from Mexico or Afghanistan … when Silk Road expands the market, it is expanding the demand,” she added.

This expanding market is evidenced in the small set of respondents (4%) who did not consume drugs prior to accessing them through dark web markets.

30% said they had consumed a wider range of drugs since using sites on the deep web, while 45% of people said their drug consumption had remained unaltered.

According to the findings, MDMA, LSD, cannabis and cocaine were the most popular drugs bought on dark web marketplaces.

Sweden topped drug sales on the dark web in the last 12 months. The Scandinavian country was closely followed by Poland (13.9%), Norway (11.7%) and Denmark (11.6%).

Hand on keyboard image via Shutterstock.

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