When two US Senators announced last week that they wanted the Feds to wipe out Silk Road, an underground version of eBay where users can by illegal drugs online, the not-so-invisible hand of the market began its attempts to wipe the Internet clean. We’re not talking about research chemicals that are undesirable to most drug users here. These are users’ Most Wanted narcotics like crystal meth, cocaine, ecstasy and super-strong hallucinogens which are being sold through the back-channels of the Internet, and they’re almost untraceable.

But Silk Road is only one of the places to buy illegal drugs online. Substance just received delivery of Class A hallucinogens and Class B stimulants from other sites on the web. If the tabloids were tripping out when they heard that legal drugs like Mephedrone and Ivory Wave were available online, they’ll be crawling up the walls when they know the extent of the illegal drugs available. Forty years since it began, the war on drugs has entered the digital domain; but as the opening shots ring out, it’s clear that the web is a battlefield tailor-made for the drug trade.
As with most criminal lairs, the headquarters of the online drugs trade aren’t that easy to find. To get to the kingpins willing to ship acid to your door, users first have to find the underground marketplaces where dealers advertise their goods. Silk Road was hoisted above ground by the news site Gawker, in an article headlined “The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable.” But before all the attention from the press, it operated under the radar for a couple of years because of how difficult it is to find.
Firstly, it has a garbled combination of numbers and letters as its URL that doesn’t show up in search engines. Second, it’s only visible to users running the TOR encryption software so that its users can’t be traced. And third, all transactions are made with Bitcoin, the as-yet untraceable virtual currency that’s becoming a problem not just for government narc squads, but law enforcement agencies of all kinds, since it can be used to trade drugs, weapons, kiddie porn, hacker codes and pretty much anything else of value.
The amount of hype surrounding Silk Road means that it can’t be long before people get stung by Feds posing as crack merchants, but that’s hardly going to deter the swathes of people flooding to the site as a result of the Gawker article. In reality, the chances of being stung by an undercover cop are pretty remote if you pay attention to its merchant rating system, which lets customers leave feedback on sellers, just like on eBay.
The downside of the surge in popularity is that Bitcoins have become more expensive to buy, which makes the drugs more expensive. So while cocaine used to go for the Bitcoin equivalent of 30 a gram, now it’s going for over 100. Add to the fact that the Bitcoin server recently got hacked and millions in users’ currency stolen, anybody who knows a reliable dealer in the real world will find Silk Road a much less attractive option.
It’s also unlikely that, like other illicit trader sites—whether it’s for drugs or file sharing—Silk Road will be around forever. People are already selling their accounts in online forums because they sense that the administrators may stop accepting new members soon. The site has already been taken down and then re-emerged with new URLs a couple of times, and this is bound to continue as the admins try to keep it out of the authorities’ reach.
But like Napster, Silk Road will probably spawn a host of other sites which will take over the supply side of the equation. New sites are cropping up all the time, like the TOR-encrypted Open Vendor Database, which was just another version of Silk Road that has already disappeared from the web.
Even more beguiling than secret sites operating outside of the Internet mainstream, though, are the ones that don’t even bother encrypting themselves. These have been around a lot longer than Silk Road. The only thing that’s keeping them up and running is the fact that the police clearly don’t know about them, but users do.
There is a site based in Austria, RC-Supply, that sells some of the lesser-known Class A drugs and will deliver them to your door. To visitors who aren’t members, the site appears to be selling “Laboratory equipment.” But when log in and a portal opens up to reveal a wreck-head’s Narnia: bucket-loads of drugs—some of them legal, but most of them highly illegal.
RC-Supply sells a host of dishes first cooked up by the godfather of psychedelics, Alexander Shulgin, which are documented in his book PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story: As well as the Class A tryptamines 2C-E, 2C-P and 2C-D, there are other cannabinoids, stimulants and deliriants like the insanely powerful psychedelic 5-Meo-DMT—a strand of DMT—and powerful alternatives to ketamine and Mephedrone.
While the drugs sold by RC-Supply are marketed as ‘research chemicals’, most of them are different beasts from the legal highs available elsewhere online that market themselves as being for research purposes only. These are extremely potent, mostly Class A and some of them actually have a documented history of recreational use, not least by Shulgin himself. On Erowid, the user Xorkoth describes his trip on 2C-E as “the most fucked up I’ve ever been. I have NEVER hallucinated this strongly or completely before.”
While the drugs sold by RC-Supply are marketed as ‘research chemicals’, most of them are different beasts from the legal highs available elsewhere online that market themselves as being for research purposes only. These are extremely potent, mostly Class A and some of them actually have a documented history of recreational use, not least by Shulgin himself. On Erowid, the user Xorkoth describes his trip on 2C-E as “the most fucked up I’ve ever been. I have NEVER hallucinated this strongly or completely before.”
It was assumed that when Mephedrone and its analogue compounds were banned last year, it would be the last time people saw their favourite brands of legal highs. In this case, people would go one of two ways: either they would return to taking Class As like cocaine and ecstasy, or they would turn to even more obscure alternatives. But one of the biggest names on the market, a company called London Underground (LU), are still selling their old favourites like Doves—a super-strong version of ecstasy—on their website.
The logic of the dealers here is startlingly simple. Doves and other LU products used to be sold in head shops and in some of the more exotic newsagents in the UK. But when they became illegal last year, LU simply moved their operation online, which is notoriously difficult to police. Based in New Zealand, they just pretend they don’t know that their products have been banned in most of the countries they ship to. A disclaimer on their website says, “London Underground can't possibly know every law or changes in laws for every country in the world. The responsibility is yours.” It’s platitudinous ass-covering at its very worst, and wouldn’t stand for anything in a court of law. But since they’re operating online, LU must have taken the calculated risk that their disclaimer doesn’t have to be worth shit, since it’s unlikely they’ll be in front of a judge any time soon.
Without knowing the intimate details of how many packages get checked by customs and couriers—information they won’t divulge for obvious reasons—it’s hard to know exactly how much risk the manufacturers and customers are taking by advertising illegal drugs online. But the fact that these sites have been shipping them around the world for over a year suggests the risk is minimal. To test it out, and to see if these sites were for real, Substance ordered 500mg of 2C-E and 2g of Methylone from RC-Supply and a pack of ten Doves from London Underground. We took delivery of the 2C-E and Methylone four days after ordering, while the Doves took twelve days to arrive. Without going into the details of how we tested them, we know that we received exactly what was advertised and, unlike the majority of dealers, they were on time.
Just as the music industry was changed forever when people realised they could get their music online, the drug trade has similarly entered a new level of the game. It stands to reason that just like in the physical world, if people want to get their hands on drugs they will do, no matter how stringent the law. As Napster and Silk Road go to show, kids in their bedrooms are always the ones at the vanguard, with the authorities always the ones chasing tails.
To see just how far behind the game drug enforcement agencies are, we spoke to the Home Office about what they were doing to stem the flow of illegal drugs being bought from the Internet. They were scarcely aware that it was happening.
“The war on drugs has failed,” begins the first report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. So with this futile drug war opening up on another front, it would make sense for governments to admit defeat before the death toll gets any higher. Drug cartels already run whole cities like Juarez in Mexico and huge areas of London, Glasgow, New York, Los Angeles, [insert any other city here], so it’s deluded to think that the drug trade won’t give prohibitionists another whooping on the web.
Text: Lewis G Parker

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