W-18 was discovered over 30 years ago by researchers at the U of A who were looking to create a non-addictive painkiller. W-18 is only one strain in a W-series of drugs (W-1 to W-32). There is no known use of these drugs, even though they were patented in 1984. And potentially the scariest fact of them all, W-18 is still legal.


W-18 Chemistry

W-18 is the most potent of the W-series, meaning that it is the most lethal. The chemical makeup of W-18 is very similar to heroin, with both producing similar highs, though there are some minute structural differences.

A big difference between W-18  and heroin is their legality. Heroin is illegal while, as we mentioned earlier, W-18 is still legal. Many drug dealers will place orders for synthetic, imitative compounds from overseas and press them into pills. They further market the pills as if they were a legal alternative to their illicit counterparts. Oftentimes, the drug dealers are unaware of what exactly they are receiving in their order, since it is so unregulated.


According to Edmonton ER doctors, there is “little evidence” that naloxone, the antidote for a fentanyl overdose, could be effective for treating a W-series overdose. Unfortunately, naloxone is the only recommended antidote for those who have overdosed on W-18.


Taking Precaution

Alberta’s elite policing squad (ALERT) stated to CBC that W-18 is not regulated under Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This is why no charges can be laid in relation to W-18.

Jim Hall, who studied substance abuse for over 30 years, says “This is the most deadly drug trend I’ve seen in 31 years… That once again shows a reason to explore other ways of banning substances not just by chemical structure but by their pharmaceutical action in the brain.”

There are clinical drugs – opioids – which have similar psychological effects but are completely legitimate. This is where the complications with banning alike substances comes into play.

There is certainly further discussion to be had as there are many sides to this story. Stay tuned as we report on updates in the weeks and months to come.