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Decrypting the cryptomarkets: Trends over a decade of the Dark Web drug trade

Bitcoin with Cocaine


Harjeev Kour Sudan, Andy Man Yeung Tai, Jane Kim and Reinhard Michael Krausz


November 19, 2023


The Dark Web is a subsection of the Internet only accessible through specific search engines, making it impossible to trace users. Due to extensive anonymity, the drug trade on the Dark Web makes regulation complicated. We sought to uncover the scope of the online drug trade on the Dark Web and the impact it may have on the dynamics of global drug trafficking.


We conducted a literature review to elucidate the availability and distribution of drugs on the Dark Web based on data reported in existing literature (n = 14) between September 2012 and June 2019. We simultaneously collected data about substances and listings from Dark Web cryptomarkets (n = 13) active between August 2022 and January 2023. Data from the literature review and the Dark Web scrape were combined to draw trends in the chronological availability and distribution of drugs between 2012 and 2023.


The data collected from 13 cryptomarkets between late 2022 and early 2023 showed a relative change in substance distribution compared to 2012–2019, with a decrease in prescription drugs (from >20% to <5%) and a doubling of opioid listings (from 5.5% to 9.25%), while no major changes were observed on average during 2012–2019 according to literature.


The Dark Web warrants more attention in the analysis of the global drug trade. Understanding Dark Web drug markets can inform targeted interventions and strategies to reduce drug-related harms, while ongoing research is necessary to anticipate and respond to future changes in the landscape of the illicit drug trade.

To access the full publication from the Drug Science Policy and Law journal, please see below:

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