Offline constraints in online drug marketplaces: An exploratory analysis of a cryptomarket trade network

L. Norbutas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cryptomarkets, or illegal anonymizing online platforms that facilitate drug trade, have been analyzed in a rapidly growing body of research. Previous research has found that, despite increased risks, cryptomarket sellers are often willing to ship illegal drugs internationally. There is little to no information, however, about the extent to which uncertainty and risk related to geographic constraints shapes buyers’ behavior and, in turn, the structure of the global online drug trade network. In this paper, we analyze the structure of a complete cryptomarket trade network with a focus on the role of geographic clustering of buyers and sellers.

We use publicly available crawls of the cryptomarket Abraxas, encompassing market transactions between 463 sellers and 3542 buyers of drugs in 2015. We use descriptive social network analysis and Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGM) to analyze the structure of the trade network.

The structure of the online drug trade network is primarily shaped by geographical boundaries. Buyers are more likely to buy from multiple sellers within a single country, and avoid buying from sellers in different countries, which leads to strong geographic clustering. The effect is especially strong between continents and weaker for countries within Europe. A small fraction of buyers (10%) account for more than a half of all drug purchases, while most buyers only buy once.

Online drug trade networks might still be heavily shaped by offline (geographic) constraints, despite their ability to provide access for end-users to large international supply. Cryptomarkets might be more “localized” and less international than thought before. We discuss potential explanations for such geographical clustering and implications of the findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-100
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Cryptomarkets
  • Online drug trade
  • Network analysis
  • ERGM
  • Dark Web
  • Online markets


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