Date Published: 11th August 2016

Research suggests that UK-based dealers in illegal drugs earn more money online than any of their European rivals.


In January this year, British dealers held 16% of the online drug market, which amounts to $2.2 (£1.7m). The UK are the second highest online seller of drugs globally, with only the USA holding a greater share of the market than Britain. In January, US dealers held a 36% share of the global online drug market – over twice that of the UK – making around $5m (£3.8m).


The research was commissioned by the Netherlands government and undertaken by research Company Rand Europe. The findings are the result of the company having trawled through the eight largest drug marketplaces on the ‘dark web’; these sites can only be accessed through a specialised web browser and do not show up in mainstream search engine results.


Rand Europe also found during the research that the number of drug deals taking place on the dark web had tripled since 2013, when police in the US closed Silk Road – one of the first online drugs marketplaces.


In the month the research was conducted, the global ‘league table’ of online drug sales found the USA to come top and the UK second, with Australia taking third place and Germany and the Netherlands in fourth and fifth respectively.


According to Rand Europe, the most popular drugs bought online in January 2106, in order, are Cannabis (33%), prescription medication (19%), Stimulants (18%), Ecstasy-type drugs (12%) and psychedelics (11%). The researchers noted that online transactions were dominated by drugs typically associated with recreational or ‘party’ use, such as cannabis and ecstasy.


It is also worth noting that online deals only represent a fraction of the drugs trade, which Rand says is estimated to be worth £1.7bn a month in Europe. Furthermore, the most popular drugs bought online do not represent the most widely used drugs globally. For example, heroin is thought to account for 28% of the total European drugs retail market – but doesn’t even make the top 5 in the online market.


Rand have suggested that the difference between online and offline markets may be that crypto-market purchases typically require an element of planning, which may not suit the daily use of dependent users of ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin.


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