The Underbelly of Telegram: A Digital Black Market for Drug Trade

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

Telegram is a messaging and voice-over IP service that operates on the cloud.

It enables users to send messages, photos, audio, and videos to individuals or groups in private chats.

Although the platform places great emphasis on user privacy and security, it has faced criticism for its role in enabling illegal drug transactions.

In this article, we’ll delve into the nature of Telegram, its intended uses, and the difficulties presented by the unlawful activities within its digital spaces.

Understanding Telegram's Appeal

Anonymity and Privacy

Telegram is unique among messaging platforms because it strongly emphasizes protecting user privacy.

Its key feature is end-to-end encryption, which ensures that only the sender and the recipient can access their messages, keeping their conversations confidential.

Additionally, Telegram offers advanced user settings that enable anonymity, including the ability to hide phone numbers and last seen status.

These features enhanced user security, making the platform attractive to individuals who value privacy in their online interactions.

Public and Private Channels

Telegram has a unique feature called channels, which function like group chats but can have unlimited subscribers.

There are two kinds of channels: public and private.

Public channels are open and can be joined by anyone on the platform.

Private channels, on the other hand, are hidden from search and need an invite link to join.

This secrecy feature of private channels can be advantageous for legitimate private conversations but also allow for covert activities.

Some individuals misuse these private channels for hidden transactions or sharing illicit content away from the general public’s watchful gaze.

The Rise of Digital Drug Trade

Transition from Streets to Screens

In the past, drug dealing was primarily done in secluded areas like alleys and street corners, putting buyers and sellers at risk during face-to-face interactions.

However, with technological advancements and the widespread use of online platforms, drug dealing has shifted to digital spaces.

This has given dealers numerous benefits, such as reaching a wider audience, remaining anonymous, and conducting transactions with some level of separation from their customers.1

As a result, the drug trade has become more covert and difficult to monitor.

Telegram as a Marketplace

With the rise of digital commerce, Telegram has become an unexpected hub for the drug trade, thanks to its encrypted and private channels that make it ideal for covert transactions.

Surprisingly, drug markets are easily accessible on Telegram, with just a simple search or an invite link.

Within these hidden channels, various drugs are sold, ranging from commonly known substances like marijuana and ecstasy to harder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

The easy availability of these markets on Telegram poses challenges for law enforcement and underscores the changing face of the drug trade.

Telegram Drug Sale Cases

Milford Man Accused of Using Telegram for Drug Sales

Federal authorities are pursuing the detention of a Milford man, Wilson Guzman, 39, whom they accuse of continuing his drug trade even after raids on his home and associated locations.2

Guzman faces charges related to drug trafficking, with allegations stating he used the encrypted messaging app Telegram to distribute drugs, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals, marijuana, and psilocybin mushrooms, to a broad client base.

A DEA agent’s affidavit suggests Guzman’s operations spanned national and international territories.

During investigations, agents tracked Guzman’s car with GPS, placed cameras near suspected storage locations, and conducted undercover drug purchases.

Some transactions were reportedly done via postal delivery, while others took place in person.

Despite a brief arrest and a judge’s order to refrain from using encrypted apps, Guzman allegedly resumed activity on Telegram shortly thereafter.

Searches also led to the discovery of untraceable “ghost” guns, including an AR-15-style rifle, at his residence.

Investigators found a video on Guzman’s phone, where he appeared to be discussing the sale of these firearms.

While not commenting on the allegations, his lawyer expressed concerns about the high bond set for Guzman’s release.

California Teenager Detained for Alleged Drug Sales on Telegram

A 15-year-old from California was taken into custody for supposedly selling drugs on the messaging platform Telegram.3

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office began investigating after a suspected drug-related death of a female on February 10.

The young male, identified as a high schooler, was allegedly trading Xanax, psilocybin mushrooms, and marijuana products on the site.

On March 16, following an undercover operation where the teen agreed to sell Xanax, officers searched his Oxnard home.

They found Farmapram, a medication from Mexico containing alprazolam.

The boy’s identity remains confidential due to age and has been released to a guardian.

The matter is now with the District Attorney’s Office for potential charges.

Drug Dealers Move from Dark Web to Messaging Apps with Clever Tactics

Drug dealers previously active on the dark web now use popular apps like Telegram to sell their products.4

They sometimes use graffiti near transportation hubs and public places to advertise their channels.

With the rise of encryption in these apps, users can maintain anonymity, making them attractive for illicit activities.

One dark web researcher showed how Telegram drug dealers utilize automated bots to communicate with buyers.

These bots offer both ease of use and detachment from direct involvement.

Dealers are also adopting “dead drops” – hiding the purchased drugs in public places, like parks, and sharing the location with the buyer post-payment, which is often made in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

These tactics help avoid face-to-face interactions and prevent the interception of drug parcels via postal systems.

This “dropgang” method began in Ukraine and has spread throughout Europe.

Rik Ferguson, a special adviser at Europol, highlighted how end-to-end encryption and minimal identity checks make apps like Telegram preferred tools for criminals.

However, apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have also been misused.

While Telegram faced criticism for being a communication tool for groups like ISIS, they’ve taken steps to address such issues.

An investigation also exposed the sharing of explicit content and stolen credit card details via Telegram, emphasizing the shift from the dark web to encrypted apps for criminal activities.

Although encrypted apps were designed to protect users from invasive surveillance, they can be misused.

Experts warn against undermining this encryption by introducing “back doors” for government access, as this could expose user data to further threats.

5 Individuals, Including 3 Teens, Arrested for Alleged Drug Deals on Telegram

Five individuals, three of whom are teenagers, were arrested in Singapore by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) due to suspicions of conducting drug deals on the messaging app, Telegram.5

These Singaporeans, ranging from 17 to 21 years old, were taken into custody on September 27th at different locations.

After they investigated drug purchases on Telegram, CNB carried out these arrests, confiscating various drugs, drug-related items, and S$3,600 (US$2,640) in cash.

The drugs were valued at approximately S$71,000.

A 20-year-old man and a 19-year-old female were detained in the Boon Lay Drive area, and officers discovered various drugs, a knuckle duster, and a knife in the man’s vehicle.

Another 18-year-old was arrested near Boon Lay Avenue, with more drugs found in his car.

The last two arrests, a 21-year-old male and a 17-year-old female were made near Jurong West Street 93.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Chang emphasized that using chat apps for illegal transactions doesn’t guarantee anonymity and that the CNB remains vigilant against such activities. Investigations are still ongoing.

The Challenges of Regulation

Monitoring Encrypted Platforms

Regulating and monitoring encrypted platforms poses a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies.

These platforms use advanced encryption, making tracking or intercepting messages and data hard.

As a result, they’ve become a popular choice for individuals involved in the digital drug trade.

While local authorities try to curb these activities, the global nature of the internet requires international cooperation.

Countries worldwide are working together to combat the digital drug trade, but encryption on many platforms makes their efforts challenging.

Telegram’s Response

In response to concerns about illicit activities on its platform, Telegram has taken steps to enhance its monitoring and curb illegal content.

The platform has started “proactive searches” to find and remove channels or chats that engage in illegal activities.

However, critics argue that Telegram could do more to prevent such activities from occurring in the first place.

Many expect the app to implement stricter measures and work more closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure a safer user environment.

Prevention and Awareness

Educating Teens and Parents

Awareness is a powerful tool in the digital age.

As the online world grows, so do its dangers, especially for teens who may not fully grasp the risks.

Both teens and parents must be educated about the potential threats on platforms like Telegram and other social media sites.

Schools, community groups, and law enforcement agencies often offer resources and programs to help educate families about these digital dangers.

Parents can guide their children by staying informed, and teens can make safer decisions online.

Monitoring Smartphone Usage

In today’s digital world, smartphones play a central role in teenagers’ lives.

Many parents monitor their children’s phone usage to ensure their safety.

Parents can periodically check their children’s phones, review app downloads, and discuss with them the sites they visit and the people they interact with.

Additionally, numerous tools and apps are available that allow parents to oversee smartphone activities, set screen time limits, and even block certain websites or apps.

Parents can help protect their children from potential online threats by using these tools and maintaining open communication.

Community and Legal Efforts

Local Initiatives

Communities across the nation are recognizing the need to address various challenges head-on.

As a response, many have introduced local initiatives focused on raising awareness and preventing potential threats.

These community programs often provide workshops, seminars, and educational materials to inform residents about the dangers lurking online and how to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Additionally, community members are encouraged to report any suspicious activities they encounter.

By doing so, not only do they protect themselves, but they also play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of their community.

Collaboration between residents, local authorities, and organizations creates a more informed and secure environment.

International Cooperation

The digital drug trade isn’t just a local problem; it’s a global concern.

Recognizing the internet’s borderless nature, countries are now collaborating more than ever to combat this issue.

These cross-border efforts involve sharing intelligence, technology, and resources to trace and shut down digital drug operations.

While the international community is united in its goal, the legal implications can be complex.

Different nations have varied laws regarding drug trafficking, making it challenging to standardize enforcement actions.

However, through treaties and international agreements, countries work together to address these legal challenges, ensuring that offenders face consequences no matter where they operate.

While platforms like Telegram offer numerous benefits, they are not without their darker facets, especially in the realm of the digital drug trade.

Education remains a vital tool in safeguarding vulnerable populations from these threats.

Everyone—parents, educators, and community members—must be more aware, vigilant, and proactive.

By collectively monitoring, reporting, and acting, communities can combat illicit activities on Telegram and similar platforms, ensuring a safer digital landscape.


For those who might be struggling with addiction, there is help available.

Please reach out to us at Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ.

As a leading addiction treatment center, we specialize in holistic healing, providing individuals with the tools for lasting recovery.

Let us help you start your journey to recovery.

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julie miller recovery writer and author

Julie Miller

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.

Lionel Estrada

Clinical Reviewer, Clinical Director

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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