A recently-published analysis of wildlife listings on darknet markets posted between 2014 and 2020 concluded that the most commonly traded species was a South American tree whose bark contains DMT, an extremely potent psychedelic drug. The study, conducted by ecology researchers at Australia’s University of Adelaide, combed through 3,000 listings across 80 darknet sites, finding 153 species in all; 68 of which contain psychoactive chemicals.
While plants were the most common wildlife listed for sale on the darknet, the researchers also recorded 19 different species of psilocybin-containing fungi (psilocybin being the active component of “magic mushrooms”). African grey parrots, ivory from elephants, rhino horns, as well as the skin and teeth of lions and tigers were also observed for sale. Other listings included beetles, scorpions, and even sea cucumbers. Such species were more exceptions, however, as plants, fungi and animals producing psychoactive substances tended to dominate the listings.
A Sonoran Desert toad, whose glands contain the psychoactive substance 5-MeO-DMT, was among the wildlife listed for sale on darknet markets. Source: British Ecological Society
“While we didn’t find a lot of wildlife, we found that a majority of species that were being traded there were for their recreational drug properties — particularly psychoactive compounds,” said Phill Cassey, the study’s principal author, in an interview with ABC News Australia. According to Cassey, over 90% of the darknet wildlife trade was in plants and fungi, such as psychedelic mushrooms. However, animals that excrete psychedelic toxins are also traded, such as the Colorado River toad. “People trade these to essentially lick them,” he explained.
Cassey also said that regular wildlife tends to be traded more openly on the clear web as the penalties for trading exotic wildlife are “so low,” failing to act as a discouraging factor against traders. “The penalties don’t match the biosecurity and biodiversity risk we see with this trade,” he said. Ecologists like Cassey believe the decline of these factors has the potential to threaten human wellbeing on a global scale.