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Uncertainty about the nature of new Schedule I drug W-18

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On June 1, the Canadian federal government added a synthetic drug called W-18 to the list of drugs on Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or CDSA. Schedule I drug offenses are the most serious and can result in the severe sentences and penalties for convictions for related drug crimes.

Recent Canadian news and information about the nature of W-18 has been confusing and controversial. Essentially, public information provided by the federal department Health Canada about the nature and strength of W-18 has been publicly questioned by researchers.

On June 13, Health Canada issued an Information Update that clarified the agency’s position on the dangerous substance. The update said that Health Canada has called W-18 a “synthetic opioid” based on information from “multiple credible sources,” including the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse. However, “a number of credible sources” later questioned the classification, noting that it is not known whether the drug actually “binds to opioid receptors in the body.”

Health Canada states that research continues on the nature of the drug and that it will make public further information as it is available. The update explained that animal pain tests indicated that W-18 is “substantially more able to relieve pain than morphine,” making it a “potentially severe risk for harm.”

More and more media reports have surfaced about W-18 being seized by law enforcement across the country. Especially now that W-18 is a Schedule I drug, anyone under investigation for or facing charges of W-18 possession, production, importation, trafficking or a related crime should immediately seek the advice of an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The penalties for a conviction are potentially as serious as they can be and the system should not be faced by a defendant without legal representation.

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