11/16/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Could 'Darknet' Drug Markets Be a Good Thing?

Global Drug Survey has been tracking the dark net markets since 2012. Our work on the Silk Road before its closure in October 2013 defined that the motivations for purchasing drugs on-line were the same as for any form of e commerce - quality, range of product, convenience and user ratings. Interestingly our work also confirmed our suspicions that despite the media hype around novel psychoactive drugs ('legal highs' 'bath salts','research chemicals') , that given the choice of loads of drugs (of good quality) most people prefer old-fashioned drugs, with cannabis, MDMA and cocaine consistently the most commonly purchased drugs on the Silk Road.

Since the Silk Road 1.0 closed in October 2013 (and then re-opened as SR2 a few weeks later and shut again a few weeks ago), the dark-net market place has seen huge growth - both in the numbers of sites (at least 10 at present and quadrupling of drug deals from 10,000 to over 40,000 in the last year). And to help you navigate this burgeoning smorgasbord of psychoactive substances they've even created Google for the dark net, conveniently called Grams. And while the TOR (developed by the US navy to support anonymized activity on the web) , crypto-markets and Bit Coins pose the biggest challenge to drug policy and regulatory enforcement in the last hundred years, it might be unwise to dismiss the rise of dark-net markets (DNMs) as a totally bad thing. In fact DNMs may partially address some of the biggest problems an unregulated market in potentially dangerous drugs create. And despite recent media reports that several dark net sites had been closed down and individuals arrested it seems like TOR is intact and DNMs are not going away. And given the profit, passion and pervasive associations shared by drugs and entrepreneurship, we might as well get on board to see how we might utilize a globalized, monitored and monetized market to the benefit of society.

But its early days and the reality is we don't really know what the impact of (DNMs) is on individual use patterns. If we can get a better handle on that, then we can start understanding how DNMs will start influencing wider drug traditional drugs markets and the criminal and government infrastructures that support it.

So this year GDS2015 is, with your help, going to try to find the answers to some of the questions that experts around the world have been asking. Firstly do DNMs provide (or encourage) access to drugs for those who previously did not have access or is simply a case of displacement from the street deal to the web? Second, do dark-market shoppers extend what's in their shopping basket and increase their menu of consumed drugs (like so many of us do on Amazon 'we noticed you liked MDMA and LSD, perhaps you'd like to try 2-CB?)'. Third does easier, more consistent access to better quality drugs lead to to more harmful patterns of use with the risk of escalating consumption of a'quality' product with an increased risk of dependence? Or does access and quality moderate use?

And before you start thinking that we couldn't envisage that DNMs could do some good, we'll also be asking whether their use could reduce some of the negative effects of the 'in person' drug trade. For example it's possible that products purchased on DNMs are safer to use as result of the filtering out of poor quality vendors and products. Does depersonalizing drug deals lead to a reduction in drug related risk violence? Could dark-markets help create credible on-line communities sharing harm reduction advice at point of purchase? Maybe you'd need to complete a health screen and a drug education course on safer drug use and how to minimise the risks of drug related harm and addiction before you could sign up? And more widely we have to ask could DNMs diminish the monopoly of cartels and reduce corruption? Honestly we just don't know. But with your help and a 100,000 other people around the world we will try to find out. And as usual we will share what we find in June 2015. In the meantime please join other interested people and share you experiences at