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Drugs, brands and consumer culture: the sign-value of the products sold on the darknet marketplaces

Nicolae Eduard Craciunescu (Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 30 December 2020

Issue publication date: 19 May 2021




The purpose of this study is to explore drug consumption from a cultural perspective, in the context of the consumer culture. It aims to identify if, through the branding process, cryptomarket vendors are attaching a sign-value to their products to facilitate the process by which consumers will recognize and appreciate it.


The study was done by performing a qualitative content analysis loosely inspired from semiotics on a sample of 40 seller pages from the Dream Market and samples of their listings, collected in 2018. The vendors who had over 1,000 successful transactions were selected, as they were considered to be the ones who have gained a certain level of trust on the cryptomarket and were considered to having to compete by differentiating their services through their brands of choice.


The results have shown that the sign-value attached to the drugs sold by the vendors from this sample can be divided in two different types of sign-systems: the popular culture and the drug cultures. The popular culture includes sign-value borrowed from established brands, popular media and media representations of crime worlds. The drug cultures include values from three types of subcultural systems: cannabis, party and psychonaut subculture.


The study is trying to stir the discussions around the regulation of the drug markets by looking at the market forces within them as rather a product of consumer capitalism and not as processes that happen outside the postmodern cultural and societal trends.



Craciunescu, N.E. (2021), "Drugs, brands and consumer culture: the sign-value of the products sold on the darknet marketplaces", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 124-134.



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