To my younger readers, this will be old news.

However, parents and those adults who work with children should know that it is relatively easy to purchase drugs on the Internet. This makes it relatively easy for minors to obtain them, if not directly, then, through a friend.

Jamie Bartlett described how the process works in The Observer. One installs a browser called Tor which gives one access to Tor Hidden Services and what are known as dark net markets. Tor gives the user near-anonymity via encryption; that said, no one is ever 100% anonymous online. (Tor, by the way, was originally built by the United States Navy; today, it is an open source project.)

In the UK, 16% of drug users now make their purchases via the dark net. The dark net has more than drug marketplaces on it; almost anything that is taboo or illegal has a site there. An RMC (Radio Monte Carlo) talk show recently discussed the terrorist networks on the dark net. The presenter was surprised to find such a thing existed, which is why I am passing this information along.

Bartlett navigated the drugs marketplace online and was surprised at the professional presentation of the various websites. He said they were comparable to Amazon and eBay, complete with customer reviews of the merchandise. Users use pseudonyms and pay for purchases with bitcoins.

Because the whole process can be done from the comfort of one’s home, Bartlett posits that purchasing drugs online will have the same effect on drug pushers that Amazon has had on booksellers.

He describes his experience:

… earlier this year an innocuous-looking white envelope was posted through my door by Royal Mail. It was about the size of a postcard, but a little bulky, and padded with bubble-wrap. It looked, felt and smelled no more suspicious than any other item of post I’d received that week. The only difference was that it contained a very small amount of high-quality cannabis …

My marijuana, I was told by an expert friend before disposing of it, was exceptionally good, and cost around £7 for the gram. (In fact, it looked like a bit more than a gram. Doubtless DrugsHeaven was hoping for repeat custom.) It is of little surprise therefore that the dark net markets are growing so quickly. According to a report by the Digital Citizens Alliance, there are now 45,000 drugs products for sale on these sites. In January, it was around 30,000.

Occasionally, he explains, the police or the FBI are able to infiltrate a site and shut it down. However, the dark net is a flexible place that adapts quickly to change:

In 2013 there were a small handful of these marketplaces. There are now around 30, including Hydra, Pandora, Outlaw Market, Agora, Silk Road 2.0 and 1776 Market Place. And most of them are doing a decent trade …

There are hundreds of vendors to choose from, selling every conceivable narcotic: heroin, opium, cocaine, acid, weed, steroids, prescription. Under ecstasy alone: 4-emc, 4-mec, 5-apb, 5-it, 6-apb, butylone, mda, mdai, mdma, methylone, mpa, pentedrone, pills …

From what little is known of them, most of the dealers on dark net markets resemble middle managers in logistics companies who spend their days taking and shipping orders all day and working out new marketing strategies. They aren’t violent gangsters fighting over turf.

He adds (emphasis mine):

Thanks to their smart use of technology, dark net markets are almost impossible to close down: they are too adaptive, too creative. This means more and better drugs more readily available at a competitive price, and that’s nothing to celebrate.

Not surprisingly, reader comments were largely supportive of dark net markeplaces, two said that, despite positive customer reviews, the buyer still needs to keep in mind that quality might differ, just as it would on Amazon or eBay.

Tomorrow’s article explains what Britain’s National Crime Agency is doing about drugs on the dark net.