Ever since the emergence of the counter-culture in the 1960s, drugs have had a constant presence in Western society. Health effects aside, the issue that has affected our cultural perceptions of psychoactive substances more than anything else is their legality, or lack of.
Up until 1912, drugs such as Opium, Morphine and Cocaine passed freely throughout the world with very little regulation. This changed, however, with the 1912 International Opium Convention where all these substances were outlawed, despite the fact that the British had fought two wars to keep the Opium industry alive in the 19th Century. Before this, now illegal drugs were freely bought and sold in a similar way to Paracetamol and Ibuprofen today. 100 years and an ongoing ‘War on Drugs’ later, the role of drugs in society has changed radically and has become more associated with criminals than world leaders, although some would disagree. Despite this, the drug industry has evolved with new laws and regulations managing to stay one step ahead. In recent years, the biggest revolution in the drug trade has come through the internet and the depths of the dark web on websites such as Silk Road, named after the famous trading route, that illegally allows users to purchase and sell drugs via the crypto currency Bitcoin. To many, this seems a bit risky, but just how easy is it to buy drugs on the internet?
Actually accessing the dark web requires a fair amount of technical knowledge and unless you know the ins and outs can be quite difficult to access. Obviously, the reason for this is to maintain a high level of security as if it has to be good enough to keep the NSA out amongst others and most instructions online are pretty overwhelming to the average joe. The first step is to install Tor, a powerful private browser that allows users to visit these websites without being detected by authorities and is pretty much the only way to access them. After that, you will have to find a web address that a. Isn’t a virus and b. hasn’t been disabled which requires browsing through the forums. Next you have to start collecting Bitcoins which is the most complicated part and in order to do this you have to set up an account with a third-party service such as coinbase.com that will allow you to exchange real money for the virtual currency. Only after all of this can you begin to actually make purchases and even then you have to be extra careful to make sure that the trail is completely untraceable.
Despite the power of the dark web, it is not the only way to buy drugs on the internet. The lasts 10 years has seen a large market emerge for research chemicals or ‘legal highs’. These are substances that attempt to synthesise the chemical effects of illegal drugs but the fact that their chemical composition is slightly altered means that they do not officially qualify as illegal. An example of this is 1p-LSD, a derivative of LSD that has attached to it an extra molecule meaning it is not technically acid but has almost exactly the same effects. This, unlike the pure LSD on the dark web, is technically legal to buy and can be purchased on websites just a couple of clicks away. There are thousands of variants of these research chemicals that are sold as ‘not fit for human consumption’, which are made to mimic every substance imaginable. This booming industry is under threat in the UK, however, from the new blanket ban on psychoactive substances that the Conservative government plans to implement soon. This would basically outlaw the sale and distribution of any new substances deemed to have psychoactive properties, ironically a definition that technically includes coffee, alcohol and cigarettes, none of which are being outlawed funnily enough.
With a growing distrust of current drug policies and the government seemingly flat-out ignoring the advise of experts, it is simply a matter of time before we are forced to completely rethink our approach to drugs beyond the black and white criminal classifications we use today. The fact of the matter is; people have always been able to get drugs, people can still get drugs and people will always be able to get drugs and right now it is clear that the ‘War on Drugs’ is actually causing more harm than good.