By Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) - Cannabis users appear to be stocking up via the darknet to avoid shortages while under lockdown during the coronavirus outbreak, the European drug agency said in a report.
The Lisbon-based agency analysed thousands of reviews on three major darknet market sites between January and March and found that restrictions on movement appeared to have triggered an increase in activity of around 25% during the period.
The majority of buyers were looking for cannabis, Europe's most commonly used illicit drug.
"The cannabis market is a large one and many regular cannabis users may have decided to stock up, anticipating market disruption during the lockdown period," said the report, released on Tuesday evening.
It said that "established buyers or possibly new buyers who are seeking cannabis for personal use or for use among their social network are increasing their activities on the market".
Sellers across Europe were left with little option but to reduce their in-person activities due to lockdowns confining millions - including their customers - to their homes, the agency said.
But people wanting to buy cannabis for personal use kept on consuming, opting for online purchases instead.
Data collected by the agency found that darknet market Cannazon, which specialises in cannabis products, sold an estimated 4.3 million euros worth of goods between January and March, representing a volume of 1.6 metric tonnes.
Still, not all drugs sold via darknet sites saw a spike - the report showed demand for ecstasy, or MDMA, which is often used at dance clubs and other public settings, appeared to be declining as people stayed home.
The agency found some vendors were trying to keep consumer confidence high by reassuring buyers it was "business as usual" while others acknowledged the challenges caused by the coronavirus.
Some sellers had decided to suspend activities during the crisis while others tried to stimulate sales by offering discounts and lowering minimum order quantities.
"Due to recent global events we have reduced our minimum order so everyone can enjoy themselves during times of quarantine," one vendor cited by the agency wrote on a darkmarket site.
Though sales mostly originated in the United Kingdom and Germany, the Netherlands was also cited as a source of some of the drugs on offer.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Editing by Victoria Waldersee and Giles Elgood)