Concepts of illicit drug quality among darknet market users: purity, embodied experience, craft and chemical knowledge

Angus Bancroft, Peter Scott Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Users of darknet markets refer to product quality as one of the motivations for buying drugs there, and vendors present quality as a selling point. However what users understand by quality and how they evaluate it is not clear. This paper investigates how users established and compared drug quality.
We used a two-stage method for investigating users' assessments. The user forum of a darknet market that we called 'Merkat' was analysed to develop emergent themes. Qualitative interviews with darknet users were conducted, then forum data was analysed again. To enhance the applicability of the findings, the forum was sampled for users who presented as dependent as well as recreational.
Quality could mean reliability, purity, potency, and predictability of effect. We focused on the different kinds of knowledge users drew on to assess quality. These were: embodied; craft; and chemical.
Users’ evaluations of quality depended on their experience, the purpose of use, and its context. Market forums are a case of indigenous harm reduction where users share advise and experiences and can be usefully engaged with on these terms.
• We investigate how darknet market users assess drug quality
• Market forums allow users to apply embodied, craft and chemical knowledge to compare the quality of different products
• Good quality does not necessarily equate to high chemical purity
• Different drugs are assessed with different priorities in mind
Expanding the range of knowledge types that users apply to product quality may have positive implications for harm reduction
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-49
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date11 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016


  • Cryptomarkets
  • Drugs
  • Darknet
  • drug quality
  • potency
  • knowledge
  • purity


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