Remember How the First Thing Ever Sold Online Was a Baggie of Weed?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Online drug sales gained notoriety thanks to the Silk Road market, but the buying and selling of illegal mood-altering substances through computers goes a lot farther back. In fact, the very first online transaction was a drug deal.

In his book The Dark Net, author Jamie Bartlett recounts how it went down:

In 1972, long before eBay or Amazon, students from Stanford University in California and MIT in Massachusetts conducted the first ever online transaction. Using the Arpanet account at their artificial intelligence lab, the Stanford students sold their counterparts a tiny amount of marijuana.


The bongwater-flavored e-commerce origin story isn’t a secret—John Markoff also wrote about it in his 2005 book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. But it’s been stuck good in my maw (I am now a 92-year-old prospector) since I read The Dark Net while Ross Ulbricht’s life sentence for his crimes operating the Silk Road came in.

Selling someone a dime bag is not at all the same as covertly operating a large-scale drug distribution service, but knowing how long people have been into the idea of using computers to buy the illegal stuff makes it even more obvious that drug-selling won’t be a habit scrubbed from the internet without first changing human behavior. The Silk Road is an extension of the type of countercultural cypher-punk thinking that helped the internet grow.


Internet Rule 34 is: If it exists, there’s porn of it. I’d add another rule: If you can send money on the internet, you can find someone who’ll exchange it for drugs.

[Image via]

Contact the author at
Public PGP key
PGP fingerprint: FF8F 0D7A AB19 6D71 C967 9576 8C12 9478 EE07 10C