Darknet drug sales up – and delivered in minutes

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Darknet drug sales up – and delivered in minutes

Global survey restates the sobering fact that forcing substances underground merely fuels illicit networks

Senior features writer
The mind-altering psychedelics LSD and magic mushrooms rated most highly in value for money in the latest Global Drug Survey.
Trippy facts The mind-altering psychedelics LSD and magic mushrooms rated most highly in value for money in the latest Global Drug Survey.
Image: 123RF/Daniil Melnikov

For an insiders’ glimpse of the recreational drug world, the annual Global Drug Survey is unique. The results, collected anonymously from more than 120,000 people in 30 countries, show that not all recreational drugs are equal – some are far less harmful and addictive than alcohol.

This month, Prof Adam Winstock, the British psychiatrist who founded the survey, has launched a special edition on Covid-19.

As SA’s lockdown has once again proved with the ban on alcohol and tobacco, forcing substances underground does not stop people getting outlawed drugs, booze and cigarettes. Instead it fuels illicit networks.

Ordering drugs on the darknet is increasing year on year, the results of the 2019 Global Drug Survey showed. A third of British cocaine users who ordered it online had it delivered to their door faster than a pizza.

That was pre-coronavirus. Urging people to participate in the Covid-19 survey, Winstock said that access to drugs had been impeded in many parts of the world, while alcohol sales were going up.

The researchers want to find out “whether, how and in what quantities” people are using alcohol and drugs in different parts of the globe.

“How are you coping with this unprecedented situation?” Winstock asks.

“For some people it’s baking, reading, yoga, virtual dance parties, or simply bingeing with Netflix. For others it’s drinking or using other drugs ...

“Some people may use more alcohol and/or other drugs to replace social connection or manage feelings of anxiety or boredom. For others, reduced access, desire and opportunity to use might lead to a period of not using.”

Alcohol came top of the 10 most used drugs by 83% of participants in the 2019 survey, which South Africans joined for the first time.

But it came bottom of the list for enjoyment in that survey – scoring five out of 10 for “value for money” when bought in bars (remember the pre-lockdown days?) – and cocaine came second last.

Join about 36,000 people, to date, in the Covid-19 Global Drug Survey.
Join about 36,000 people, to date, in the Covid-19 Global Drug Survey.
Image: Global Drug Survey

In contrast, the mind-altering LSD and magic mushrooms gave most pleasure, scoring around eight out of 10.

One-fifth of the participants regretted getting drunk in the past 12 months and more than a third “wanted to drink less next year”.

The surveys raise awareness about the pleasures and risks around drug use, said treatment specialists.

Dr Keith Scott, co-founder of the SA Drug Policy Initiative, which is lobbying to reform the laws around psychoactive substances, adds: “Alcohol is the most harmful of all drugs, including drugs like heroin, but it is legal and the others aren’t. Only 10% to 15% of all people who use drugs regularly become addicted to them.”

In an interview, Winstock said the best source of information about safe drug use was “from other people who use drugs, not a middle-age psychiatrist”.

 “I work with people whose lives have been ruined by drugs – heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth – and some of my patients may have avoided problems if they had got advice earlier from people who used them.”

Revolutionising drug policy would not however invalidate the warning from parents and teachers to youngsters: “Stay away from drugs!”

They should be off limits because human brains are developing until about 25 years old, giving rise to the slogan: “You need to grow your brain before you can expand it.”

Winstock says: “Peak drug use is between 16 and 23 years old, when people are experimenting. We want to limit excesses, then hopefully people will not get too damaged as they grow up.”

The global renaissance in psychedelic drugs – with psychoactive drugs being tested in dozens of clinical trials worldwide – is changing perceptions about drugs like magic mushrooms, ketamine and LSD, but they can pose a risk, particularly to people with mental health conditions.

Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, described taking LSD as a profound experience, one of the most important in his life.

“LSD shows you that there’s another side of the coin. You can’t remember it when it wears off but you know it.”

When lockdown is over, the effects may not wear off soon enough for many people, but the Covid-19 survey should give insights into how humanity coped.

Of the 20 drugs used most commonly in the past 12 months:

  • 4 were tobacco/nicotine-based products;
  • 6 were psychedelic/dissociative drugs;
  • 4 were stimulant drugs;
  • 3 were prescription CNS (central nervous system) depressants.

• Source: Global Drug Survey 2019

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