The First Thing Ever Sold Online Was a Bag of Weed

By Kate Knibbs on at

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 small 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 behaviour. 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 Sodahead.com