First published on Vice.com, by By Max Daly January 13, 2015
When we are talking about the future of drugs, there are three certainties that cannot be ignored:
Certainty #1. Until the planet explodes, melts or drowns, humans will want to get intoxicated.
Certainty #2. People who supply these intoxicants, particularly banned ones, will trouser a load of cash.
Certainty #3. We will be blindsided by a new drug phenomenon, a bolt from the blue, that everyone will pretend they knew was coming.
In 2003, a group of 50 eminent scientists and professors were gathered by the government’s Foresight think tank in order to focus their collective brain power on the answer to one question: What will the drug world look like in 2025?
The answer was revealed two years later, in a series of 21 documents. The scientists’ huge crystal ball revealed a Britain in 2025 awash with smart, lifestyle drugs – drugs to help people learn, think, relax, sleep, or simply to forget, a bit like the creepy, hangoverless pleasure drug Soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. So far, this prediction is not looking like a bad one; there is already a huge grey market in drugs that enhance performance, image and mood, and it’s a market that is rapidly expanding.
But what is interesting about the Foresight project is not what it got right, but what it missed. It failed to predict the biggest phenomenon to hit the drugs world since ecstasy: The explosion, a mere four years after their report was published, of new psychoactive substances sold on the back of a fledgling online drug trade. It opened the gateway to hundreds of untried substances and crucially, it revolutionised the way illegal drugs were bought and sold.
Yet the future will not be about the endless procession of legal highs. A smattering of new psychoactive substances (or NPS) will always be around, and to an extent always have been, but they have had their day in the sun. An interesting sideshow, they have served a purpose. Yes, mephedrone is here to stay and maybe 2C-B will hang around too, but now that the ecstasy and cocaine markets have righted themselves, with the purity of both drugs up considerably, the old school drugs are back. Stimulant clones and chemabis will still have an appeal to those who are skint, unable to get hold of decent drugs or who want to avoid getting caught out in piss tests, but the imminent clampdown on head shops will stifle supply to teenagers and the homeless – two of the keenest buyers of NPS products.
The online drug trade, however, will be blazing a trail into the next decade and beyond, whether the world’s police like it or not.
I spoke to Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High, about how the online drug trade might fare over the next decade or two. “At the moment, the online trade in drugs is a minority sport, a good way of buying high quality drugs,” he told me. “Even now it’s tipping over from early adopters into the mainstream. It will get bigger, easier to use and more widespread. There will be more sites and more people using them because it is the perfect business model: anonymous, commission-based, peer-reviewed, postal drug dealing. Online dealing is not a replacement for trafficking cartels, it’s never going to work on that level, but if you’ve got a kilo of MDMA it’s the way to go.”
And what’s more, predicts Power, it’s a trading zone that will remain highly resilient to any attempt to destroy it. In November, the world’s police – including the FBI, Europol and Britain’s National Crime Agency – closed down the biggest online drug market, Silk Road 2.0, in a blaze of publicity during Operation Onymous. But just weeks later, the dark market was back doing a roaring trade.
On “Cyber Monday”, sites were offering 50 percent off LSD, buy three-get-one-free deals on liquid mushrooms and 1oz of marijuana reduced to $200. Punters couldn’t get enough of it. “Observing the online trade, two weeks before Christmas, on the five or six sites that took up the slack from Silk Road 2.0’s demise, was like watching Oxford Street on Christmas Eve,” says Power.
Behind the FBI’s hype, and its impressive claim of closing 427 sites, things looked pessimistic for the enforcement agencies trying to shut down this trade. “Onymous looked like a major shakedown,” explains Power. “But what Onymous actually did was to make it far easier and safer to buy drugs online, because most of the sites it closed down were clone sites made by criminals to rip Bitcoins off drug users. Tor, the PGP message-encryption system and Bitcoin – the dark web’s holy trinity – remain un-cracked.”
Beyond this holy trinity, the possibilities for buying drugs online while avoiding the attentions of future cyber rozzers are endless. Jonny Y, a seasoned online buyer, former psychonaut and one-time online vendor, told me the internet now has a thriving number of close-knit, online drug-trading communities who’ve gravitated away from the dark market and moved onto the clear web. Funded by monthly subscription fees rather than commissions from Bitcoin transactions, they’re helping to make hiding in plain sight a new camouflage for the online drug buyer.
But for all its nifty encrypto-nerdism, the internet drug trade still represents only a tiny proportion of the global trade in drugs. Barring the mass return of polio or a totalitarian style curfew regime, most people will still be out and about buying their drugs from family, mates, mates of mates, junkie acquaintances and blokes saved in their phone as “Johnny Gak 1” in pubs, clubs, colleges, house parties, street corners, crack houses, Audis and off other mums and dads on the school run.
In the future, if the notoriously early adopting gay drug scene is anything to go by, this will probably be aided and abetted by mobile phone apps. London’s ChemSex community hooks up with drugs by using apps such as Grindr, which inadvertently offers instant, location-based drug booty calls. David Stuart has run some of London’s pioneering club drug and ChemSex support services. I asked him how he saw the mainstreaming of this kind of drug consumption panning out.
“More than half of my clients do not use a dealer; they just put the word out on sex-apps, and they’re sorted,” says Stuart. “The shameless queuing in nightclubs for drugs has become the shameless sharing of them online. Whether the non-gay communities will follow suit… I assume they will. Tinder is right there, getting more popular by the month.”
One of the most common profile names or sub-headings on Grindr has become “GMTV” which implies that the person is using, has to share, or has to sell, G (GBL) M (mephedrone), T (Tina AKA crystal meth) or V (Viagra). By using colloquial slang for drugs, and using search fields on certain sites, you can hunt for the drug you’re after, or people who are using it who might be willing to hook you up electronically with someone who’ll get some for you.
“Whether you’re looking to buy, share your own drugs, or just shag some ugly bastard so he’ll share his drugs with you, this is the modern way of scoring drugs,” asserts Stuart. “Not a sniffer dog, drugs outreach worker, or needle-exchange bus in sight.”
The need to keep it subtle won’t matter if drugs are regulated. Over the next few years more US states – including the big one, California, in 2016 – will legalise cannabis. Because the policies have been voted for by the people and big business has jumped on for the ride, even a Republican president will find it hard to reverse or stem the tide.
Within ten years, over half of Americans are likely to be living in a state where it is legal to buy marijuana, an ironic situation for a country that kicked off the global War on Drugs. Brand names such as Marley Natural and Humboldt Haze could be accompanied by Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Apache Gold, as native Americans begin to produce and sell their own weed.
How much of an impact the American ganja revolution will have on the rest of the world is a hard call, so I spoke to Martin Jelsma, a political scientist and international drug policy expert from the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.” Click the link below to read the entire article…