What is W18 or W-18? - The Latest High Risk Drug

A man on life support
Although little is known about W-18, it has been implicatated in numerous drug deaths. Caia Images / Sam Edwards

What is W18 or W-18?

W-18 is a synthetic, opioid drug, also known as 4-chloro-N-[1-[2-(4-nitrophenyl)ethyl]-2piperidinylidene]benzenesulfonamide). Synthetic opioid drugs are man-made copies of naturally occurring painkiller drugs, such as heroin, a drug which is made from certain strains of the poppy plant. Opioid drugs are most often used in medical settings as powerful painkillers, although the euphoria that is part of the effect makes them attractive to drug dealers and drug users as recreational drugs.

They are also typically highly addictive, producing tolerance quickly, and withdrawal if the person taking the drug for a period of time suddenly stops taking it. Opioid drug, whether natural or synthetic, also carry a significant risk of overdose, and for that reason are highly risky to take without medical supervision. The amount of the drug that can cause death varies a great deal from person to person, and small changes, such as how long and how much of the drug has been taken, recent weight loss, and  interactions with other drugs taken, can drastically change the risk of overdose in the same person.

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History of W-18

In early 2016, W-18 hit the news in Calgary, Canada, when police seized the drug after it was implicated in a large number of drug-related deaths -- over 200 people were thought to have lost their lives at least in part due to W-18. Yet the drug was developed many years earlier, in 1984, and was patented in Canada and the United States the same year, in anticipation of its potential use as a painkiller.

However, its legitimate use has never been established.

It was not until 2013 when W-18 first seemed to have been discovered as a designer drug, where it was marketed by drug dealers as a legal substitute for other recreational drugs. This approach of using drugs which have never been formally identified as illicit drugs is a way of working around the legal status of drugs.

These so-called designer drugs are substances which have effects that are similar to illicit drugs, but have not yet been identified as such, so drug dealers can get away with selling them, and even marketing them as "legal highs."

Yet it is considered to be highly risky to take, and, as with other drugs, it is just a matter of time before the authorities recognize the risks of such as drug, and take action to protect the public from such high risk drugs.

In 2014, W-18 was added to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) list of New Psychoactive Substances.

In 2016, The government of Canada posted a notice online, informing interested parties of a proposal to schedule W-18 as well as its salts, derivatives, isomers, and analogues, and salts of derivatives, isomers and analogues under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and its regulations.


Department of Health. Notice to interested parties -- Proposal regarding the scheduling of W-18 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations,, Canada Gazette, February 13, 2016.

Lum, Z. W18 Drug Is 10,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine: Calgary Police Warning Huffington Post Canada, January 21, 2016.

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