An increasing number of drug consumers do their shopping online, says a recent international survey. However, only 4% of those who buy drugs on darknet markets have not consumed drugs before.

Drug consumers prefer to move online because dark net markets guarantee cheaper and better quality products and less exposure to violence, says the Global Drug Survey 2015, published on 7 June. The most extensive drug survey in history, it is based on the information obtained from more than 100,000 drug consumers from 50 different countries during November and December 2014.

The Global Drug Survey was first established in 2009 by Dr. Adam Winstock, a London-based psychiatrist and addiction specialist, an author of a great number of scientific papers. His first survey of 1,200 British drug consumers was conducted back in 1999.

This time, one of his goals was to analyse of the role of the dark net markets. In his article in the Huffington Post, published in November 2014 and titled “Could 'Darknet' Drug Markets Be a Good Thing?”, Dr. Winstock stated he was going to study the impact of dark web markets on individual use patterns. It is a highly controversial topic, recently reignited by the Ross Ulbricht’s trial. Defenders of darknet markets said that it’s better to buy drugs online than on the street, that such markets as the Silk Road actually reduced harm for drug consumers. From the law enforcers' point of view, however, dark net markets create addiction: as the shopping becomes easier, the drugs can be bought by those who would have never bought them otherwise.

Despite the closing of such darknet markets as Silk Road 2.0 and Evolution, the number of those who buy drugs online continues to grow. Darknet shopping is especially popular in Sweden (18% of respondents), other Scandinavian countries, UK and Poland. Globally, 4.5% of respondents bought drugs at the darknet markets. The main reasons behind the preference for darknet markets are cheapness, better quality and better protection both from authorities and from drug dealers. When going online drug consumers are only afraid of losing their money: most respondents told they did not like to be asked to finalize payment before receiving their order and they were concerned about losing money because of market seizure by police, scam, theft, or bitcoin volatility.

The study suggests that people do not become drug addicts because of darknet markets. Indeed, 96% of those who do their shopping online said they had consumed drugs before. However, 21% reported they moved to consuming a different class or a wider range of drugs. According to Dr. Winstock, it means that the access to lots of various drugs may lead to experimentation and play a negative role.

The results are ambiguous but it seems that Dr. Winstock believes darknet markets can do more good than harm. The site of the survey contains a guide to safer, more enjoyable drug use and a number of apps providing users with feedback on drug and alcohol consumption.

The drugs are one of the main commodities of bitcoin darknet markets. At the end of 2014, a laptop, programmed by Swiss techno-artists to shop on the darknet, bought Ecstasy pills among other things. The drugs safely crossed the Swiss border, escaping all notice.