Cryptomarkets are special forms of online marketplaces that are hosted on the deep web, and feature a large number of vendors. Buyers and vendors on cryptomarkets enjoy the anonymity provided to them by the deep web, as their web locations are concealed and cryptocurrency payments render it almost impossible to track them. Drug trading on various cryptomarkets has recently evolved to become a special area of interest for academic criminologists. Even though mainstream media portals usually focus on the dangerous impacts of drug trading on cryptomarkets, very few reports have examined how cryptomarkets can minimize the harms of illicit drugs, and/or increase the benefits of cryptomarkets participants.
A recently published paper provided an analytical review of literature linked to illicit drug trading on cryptomarkets. The authors of the paper used the MacCoun and Reuter formula to analyze the influence of population-level rise in use on the overall harm, as depending on the degree of harm linked with each unit of use. Afterwards, they examined the potential of various cryptomarkets to increase or reduce the benefits and harms associated with each unit of illicit drug use, while focusing on the quality of illicit drugs offered on these markets, as well as the non-drug related benefits and harms for buyers.
How can cryptomarkets influence the harms and benefits of illicit drugs on users?
The authors of the paper postulated that if cryptomarkets are to continue on growing, the overall number of illicit drug users might rise, as well as their usage intensity and their drug abusing repertoires. The MacCoun and Reuter equation denotes that harms related to illicit drugs are dynamic. The overall harm won’t simply depend on the prevalence of drug use, but also on usage intensity and harms per unit of drug use.
The MacCoun and Reuter equation can also be utilized to analyze the benefits of drug use. Even though there is a growing literature focusing on the analysis and categorization of harms related to illicit drug use, possible benefits of drug usage have been less frequently studied. Logically, drug use benefits exist, or else the number of people using drugs all over the world would have been much more less. Users resort to drugs for multiple reasons, which are more or less volitional, but less likely dependant. Users may benefit from pleasure, increased capacities to study and/or work and strengthened social relationships with other drug users, in addition to other forms of benefits. As prescription drugs are sold on cryptomarkets, many individuals are now self medicating psychological as well as physical health problems, and despite the fact that doing so can carry multiple risks, a number of researchers have concluded that self medication can have many benefits, even when opiates substitutes are used for self medication.
One of the benefits of buying drugs from cryptomarkets is that users are able to get the drugs they are actually seeking, rather than unpredictable substitutes; a problem that can be illustrated by how street drug dealers sometimes deceive users and sell them fentanyl and LSD as heroin. As cryptomarket customers mostly get the drug they expected to buy, they are less likely to experience undesirable effects, and consequently, the harms that can occur secondarily to those effects. Purer drugs, and hence higher strength drugs, are not always better as the incidence of overdoses rises when a purer drug enters the markets and users don’t modify their doses accordingly. Recently, reports of purer forms of MDMA were linked to deaths from overdose. Disentangling the benefits and harms of purer, or higher quality, drugs is not always straightforward. Nevertheless, many drug users believe that higher purity is beneficial, especially when associated with better prices, and transactional risks on cryptomarkets.
Cryptomarkets offer drug users benefits via providing them with information regarding harm reduction. Forums and websites specializing in drug user related discussions have recently proven to reduce drug induced harm via information sharing. Cryptomarkets, in addition to their associated forums offer users a step-change benefit, as vendors can communicate directly with their customers and provide them with information regarding safer methods of drug use, in addition to openly discussing various issues such as the quality and purity of the drugs they sell.
To sum up, cryptomarkets can greatly reduce the harm associated with drug use, and maximize its benefits, if any could ever be found.