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Tales from the Dark Web: illicit drugs, bitcoins, and social media


I thought I would share what I learned about obtaining digitally accessible drugs, and what drugs are commonly obtained over the Internet.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

I recently came across an article that caught my eye with the headline “Digitally Accessed Illicit Drugs.” My first thought was, “You can get high from a computer program?” which was quickly followed by, “Do my kids know about this?”

In case you were not aware, I am (gasp) middle-aged and very sober. I thought you got recreational drugs from a friend who used drugs, the creepy guy on the street corner who sells drugs, or a parent’s medicine cabinet.

Previously from Dr. Schroeder-Swartz: How patient care resembles parenting

Given that I buy as much stuff as possible from Amazon, I was naive to think that you couldn’t buy drugs on the Internet. I thought I had to worry about only bullying, cyberstalking, pornography, viruses, malware, and killers on Craigslist.

I was wrong.

So, I thought I would share what I learned about obtaining digitally accessible drugs, and what drugs are commonly obtained over the Internet.


Bitcoin, social media, and the Dark Web

First of all, we “rule followers” typically surf the surface Web. New, synthetic drugs can be purchased over the surface web and easily shipped to your home (or a post-office box) in small packages for your convenience. The Dark Web is typically more popular for illicit drug seekers because it enables anonymous browsing. Dark Web browsers can be downloaded to your computer, tablet, or phone.

Drugs are purchased using Bitcoin-which I thought was used to play video games. Bitcoin is virtual currency kept in a virtual wallet. When making a purchase, it is recorded in a public log but requires only the wallet ID as identification for purchases. It is essentially untraceable-perfect for drug transactions. If you are not into virtual money, some vendors do accept wire transfers.

Social media sites are now also being used for the drug trade. Some examples include Instagram and Kik. While we know Instagram as the photo and video sharing application, users can post pictures of their product and can message privately or in groups to connect with dealers.

A quick search for #drugs4sale led me to weeds_buddy, weedsusa, weeds4sale, Onlinedrugmarket, isellspeed, fryc2k, that_boywizard, and my favorite, frathouseusa.

Hashtags for keywords make searching for drugs easier within social media applications. Kik, Whisper, Grindr, or similar direct messaging applications allow direct messaging without identifying information such as name or cell phone number. Excuse me while I confiscate my children’s tablets and phones.

Related: Scary good tips to celebrate Halloween at the office

Bath salts are not bath bombs

What types of drugs are typically obtained over the Internet?

Bath salts, or synthetic cathinones, should not be confused with the fuzzy bombs for your bathtub. These drugs are chemically related to a stimulant found in the khat plant indigenous to East Africa and southern Arabia.

There, people chew the leaves for mild stimulant effects. Synthetic compounds are stronger and more dangerous. They may be touted as cheaper versions of methamphetamines, cocaine, or “molly” methylenedioxymethamphetamine

 (MDMA). They may be sold online under various names, including Flakka, Bloom, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, Scarface, and Cloud Nine.1

People may snort, swallow, smoke, or inject these substances, which are monoamine reuptake inhibitors and increase levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and in some cases serotonin. These synthetic compounds have been reported to cause blurred vision due to pupil dilation, nystagmus, and ocular muscle spasms.2 One form in particular, Flakka (α-pyrovalerone) can be vaporized using an electronic cigarette device.

Related: Why patient education is bit like fortune telling

Agonists bind

“Spice” or synthetic cannabinoids were legally sold within the U.S. until 2011. In 2012, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act was signed into law banning 15 synthetic cannabinoids.3 While THC is a partial agonist, synthetic versions are full agonists. They have been reported to produce blurred vision, pupil dilation, and nystagmus, as well as severe persistent headaches.4

Note that smoking of THC-rich extracts is increasing and is known as “dabbing.” Extracts may be sold as hash or honey oil, wax or budder (similar to lip balm), and shatter-an amber colored solid. Extracts are often much stronger than traditional marijuana and may be prepared using lighter fluid.5


Salvia is related to mint plants and contains the active ingredient salvinorin A-which causes hallucinations and cannabis-like effects. Side effects include dizziness, headaches, and floaters that are not real.2

Kratom is derived from the Mitragyna speciose Korth tree, and acts on opioid receptors to reduce pain and produce sedation and pleasure. One chemical component, mitragynine, may interact with other brain receptors, resulting in a stimulant effect.6 Kratom is not currently regulated and may be sold as a green powder in packets that resembles bath salts.

Kratom is also sold as gum or an extract. Its leaves may be brewed in tea, smoked, or eaten. It may be referred to as an herbal speedball, biak-biak, ketum, kahuam, or ithang.7

Know the lingo

Interested in searching for a fix on the Dark Web? You have to learn the lingo. AC/DC is not a band; it is codeine cough syrup. An ace is not a playing card; it is a marijuana cigarette. Adam is not the anatomy program you used to study from; it is MDMA.

Related: Why optometrists are awesome

Al Capone, Bart Simpson, Bobby Brown, and bin Laden are street names for heroin.

Elvis refers to LSD. Bernice or Bernie refers to cocaine, while Beavis and Butthead refer to LSD. If someone talks about amoeba, it is not biology lab-it is PCP. Everclear now refers to cocaine and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), not the grain alcohol that made frat parties so entertaining.

Anadrol and Anavar are oral steroids, not avatar characters. Bedbugs refer to fellow addicts. Bingo refers to injecting a drug, and a brewery is where drugs are made.

Sketching is not drawing; it refers to coming down after taking speed. Skittles are not the colored chicken pox candy; they are Coricidin cough and cold tablets. A smurf is not a little blue character with a white hat; it is a cigar dipped in embalming fluid. Smurfs (plural) refers to methylenedioxymethamphetimine (MDMA).

If someone asks you if you are an author, he is asking if you are doctor who writes illegal prescriptions. I have to remember that one.



1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are synthetic cathinones? Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts. Accessed 9/1/2017.

2. Markley, LA, Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine. Recognizing Toxidromes From Digitally Accessed Illicit Drugs: New Challenges for Psychiatrists. Psychiatric Times. 2017 Apr;34(4). Available at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/substance-use-disorder/recognizing-toxidromes-digitally-accessed-illicit-drugs-new-challenges-psychiatrists. Accessed 9/1/2017.

3. Crews, B. Synthetic Cannabinoids. Clinical Laboratory News. 2013 Feb. Available at: https://www.aacc.org/publications/cln/articles/2013/february/cannabinoids. Accessed 9/5/2017.

4. Cooper, Z. Adverse Effects of Synthetic Cannabinoids: Management of Acute Toxicity and Withdrawal. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2016 May; 18(5): 52.

5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is marijuana? Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana. Accessed 9/1/2017.

6. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) drug profile. Available at: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/drug-profiles/kratom. Accessed 9/5/17.

6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is kratom? Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/kratom. Accessed 9/1/2017.

Read more from Dr. Schroeder-Swartz here

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