Since the early 20th century, the illegal drug trade has received increasing focus throughout the world. However, the use of mind-altering substances predates attempts to prohibit or regulate them. Early control efforts date back to the teachings of Mohammed in the Koran, though wider-scale control efforts did not occur until the 18th century. Since that time, both the production of mind-altering substances and their regulation or prohibition has been commonplace throughout the world. Several illicit markets exist in response to the ongoing demand. Four notable products are cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and synthetically produced, mind-altering substances that are sold predominantly to users in North America and Europe.
The production, transportation, and usage of these substances are all impacted by the histories and geographies of the producer, intermediary, and user countries. Shifts in tolerance of certain substances; geopolitical events, such as war; international policy and policing initiatives, such as the implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 and improved means of detecting illicit payloads at international boarders; and changes in demand for specific products have all influenced how trafficking routes and the organizations that participate in the drug trade form and adapt.
Regardless of these changes, one constant is that no aspect of the drug trade has ever been dominated by a single, monolithic organization; several illicit enterprises have historically come together to form the often supply global chains. In the 2011, the first darknet market, the Silk Road, emerged as a means by which some buyers and sellers could connect, thus potentially reducing the links of the supply chain. Ongoing changes in technology as well as shifts in the regulatory frameworks on controlled substances will impact illicit substances that are sold and how buyers and sellers interact, and will require innovated research strategies to evaluate their evolution.