Responsible use to responsible harm: Illicit drug use and peer harm reduction in a darknet cryptomarket

Angus Bancroft*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sale of illicit drugs through online ‘cryptomarkets’ is a notable innovation in the illicit drug market. Cryptomarkets present new ways of configuring risk and harm in relation to drug use. I examine the kinds of knowledge and discourses users employed to do this. Following Zinn (2008), I argue that the lay/expert divide that creates a hierarchy of knowledge around drug use and harms is increasingly undermined by the creation of knowledge communities by drug users who make drug use work effectively for them. I draw on the discussion forum of a now defunct English language focused cryptomarket, anonymised as ‘Merkat’, collected between 2015-16. Typically, vendors in the major cryptomarkets are based in the USA, UK, China, the Nether-lands and Australia (van Buskirk, et al. 2016). Buyers were mainly located in the USA, UK, Australia and Western Europe (Winstock and Barratt, 2017). I scraped the market forum threads and coded on emergent themes. I found that risk worked along four axes, cultural normalisation/pathologisation, chemical potency, legal/policy and market, each of which required a set of practices and orientations to manage suc-cessfully. Users indicated that they had adapted many harm reduction practices, while also promoting a ‘responsible harm’ orientation where they sought to own and take charge of harm. The support infrastructure drew on knowledge from drug users, vendors and interested professionals. I conclude that cryptomarkets can provide a community infrastructure that supports the exchange of drugs and configures them as risky but manageable objects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-350
Number of pages14
JournalHealth, Risk & Society
Issue number7-8
Early online date12 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • darknet
  • drugs
  • cryptomarkets
  • harm reduction
  • risk
  • illicit drugs


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