It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the darknet markets that you can buy almost anything from the dark web.
Drugs, guns, prostitutes and hit men proliferate, although the chances are that some of the sellers and procurers are FBI agents in disguise.
The dark web is an unsearchable vault of various websites and darknet markets unavailable to see from the surface of the internet and usually accessed via the Tor browser.
Darknet markets can come online and then disappear just as quickly.
The infamousdrug marketplace, Silk Road, was raided and the originator arrested, but there have been many since.
If you’ve ever traipsed around the darknet markets, such as Amazon Dark, Agora and Hansa Market, you will have stumbled across your fair share of legal highs.
These novel psychoactive drugs and synthetic drugs, such as MXE (methoextamine) and synthetic cannabinoids, are generally made in China and India, where laws don’t exclude them from being produced.
The drugs are specifically made to mimic the effects of more well-known drugs such as ketamine, cocaine, speed, marijuana and MDMA.
The most well-known designer drug in the UK, that was legal up until April 2010, was the stimulant mephedrone, also known as M-Cat. Its proliferation made lawmakers sit up and take notice of the new range of legal highs coming through.
Sellers of M-Cat either stopped selling or went underground, with many turning to darknet markets to cover their tracks.
The Seller and His Wares
Alex Middleton, 20, got caught in a string while selling previously legal designer drugs on the darkweb through the Silk Road 2.0 marketplace.
Alex was a member of at least nine darknet markets and used the name Maximus Decimus to sell his wares.
On the 6th November 2014, Alex was arrested while at home in New Waltham, Grimsby in the UK.
NCA agents raided his house to find various amounts of 4-MEC, alprazolam (better known as Xanax) and methoxetamine or MXE.
In the UK, 4-MEC is a Class B drug that has been illegal to possess since April of 2010, alprazolam is a Class C drug only available by prescription, and methoxetamine is a Class B drug that has been illegal since 2013.
NCA officers found the drugs packaged as “sea vegetable supplement” along with false invoices designed to make the drugs look legitimate.
Tracing of his profile through computers seized showed the man’s activity and interactions on at least two darknet markets with customers in the UK, USA, Canada and Germany, along with reviews from 195 transactions.
Silk Road 2.0 has since been raided and shut down.
Alex pleaded guilty to five charges on 10thof June 2015 and was sentenced to 2 years and 4 months in prison on September 30, 2015. The charges regarded possession, importing and the intent to supply both the Class B and Class C drugs that he was caught with.
The charges regarded possession, importing and the intent to supply both the Class B and Class C drugs that he was caught with.
Thankfully Alex’s future isn’t ruined – his short stint in jail will see him freed before his mid-20s, but it is a timely reminder to us all to keep tabs on what drugs are being made illegal and when.
Selling non-prescription medical-grade pharmaceuticals generally carries a shorter sentence than simply banned substances, but sellers must be on the lookout for when substances known as legal highs become illegal.
Where to From Here?
Legal highs have been a contentious issue for many years.
Each time a legal high is banned, a new one with a slightly different chemical composition seems to just pop up in its place.
With the UK scrambling to keep up with new still legal designer drugs being distributed, they introduced a new Psychoactive Substances Bill in May 2015 outlining blanket laws banning the drugs from being sold.
Possession will not be an offense if it is just for personal use.
The bill is currently still under review in the House of Commons.
It is contentious as it struggles to define psychoactive substances definitively and may not provide enough protection for experimental substances for medical purposes.
It will be interesting to see if the bill passes, and what the ramifications of the new laws would be.
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