Use of Silk Road, the online drug marketplace, in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States

Monica J. Barratt*, Jason A. Ferris, Adam R. Winstock

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    160 Citations (Scopus)



    To investigate the prevalence of awareness of the online illicit drug marketplace Silk Road (SR), consumption of drugs purchased from SR and reasons for use and non-use of SR.

    Design and setting

    Global Drug Survey: purposive sample collected in late 2012.


    The base sample (n = 9470) reported recent drug purchase and resided in the United Kingdom (n = 4315, median age 24, 76% male), Australia (n = 2761, median age 32, 76% male) or the United States (n = 2394, median age 21, 80% male).


    Online questionnaire.


    A total of 65% of US, 53% of Australian and 40% of UK respondents had heard of SR; 18% of US, 10% of UK and 7% of Australian respondents had consumed drugs purchased through SR. Across the three countries, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA) was the most commonly purchased drug (53-60%), followed by cannabis (34-51%), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) (29-45%) and the 2C family (16%-27%). The most common reasons for purchasing from SR were wider range (75-89%), better quality (72-77%), greater convenience (67-69%) and the use of vendor rating systems (60-65%). The most common reasons for avoiding SR purchase were adequate drug access (63-68%) and fear of being caught (41-53%). Logistic regressions found that, compared with people from the UK, Australians [odds ratio (OR) = 3.37; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 2.29, 4.97) and Americans (OR = 1.46; 95% CI = 1.10, 1.94) were more likely to use SR due to lower prices; and to avoid SR purchase due to fear of being caught (Australia: OR = 1.65; 95% CI = 1.39, 1.96; USA: OR = 1.62; 95% CI = 1.37, 1.92).


    While reasons for Silk Road use accord with broader online commerce trends (range, quality, convenience, ratings), its appeal to drug purchasers is moderated by country-specific deterrents and market characteristics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)774-783
    Number of pages10
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - May 2014


    • new drug trends
    • drug market
    • internet
    • online marketplace
    • Cryptomarket
    • Silk Road


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