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Int J Drug Policy. 2013 Nov;24(6):524-9. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.08.011. Epub 2013 Sep 8.

'Surfing the Silk Road': a study of users' experiences.

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School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland. Electronic address:
Irish Needle Exchange Forum, Ireland. Electronic address:



The online drug marketplace called 'Silk Road' has operated anonymously on the 'Deep Web' since 2011. It is accessible through computer encrypting software (Tor) and is supported by online transactions using peer to peer anonymous and untraceable crypto-currency (Bit Coins). The study aimed to describe user motives and realities of accessing, navigating and purchasing on the 'Silk Road' marketplace.


Systematic online observations, monitoring of discussion threads on the site during four months of fieldwork and analysis of anonymous online interviews (n=20) with a convenience sample of adult 'Silk Road' users was conducted.


The majority of participants were male, in professional employment or in tertiary education. Drug trajectories ranged from 18 months to 25 years, with favourite drugs including MDMA, 2C-B, mephedrone, nitrous oxide, ketamine, cannabis and cocaine. Few reported prior experience of online drug sourcing. Reasons for utilizing 'Silk Road' included curiosity, concerns for street drug quality and personal safety, variety of products, anonymous transactioning, and ease of product delivery. Vendor selection appeared to be based on trust, speed of transaction, stealth modes and quality of product. Forums on the site provided user advice, trip reports, product and transaction reviews. Some users reported solitary drug use for psychonautic and introspective purposes. A minority reported customs seizures, and in general a displacement away from traditional drug sourcing (street and closed markets) was described. Several reported intentions to commence vending on the site.


The study provides an insight into 'Silk Road' purchasing motives and processes, the interplay between traditional and 'Silk Road' drug markets, the 'Silk Road' online community and its communication networks.


Closed drug markets; Displacement patterns; Internet; Silk Road

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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