The key ingredient in a new, highly addictive street drug known as "bath salts" has been banned in Canada.

Under new federal rules announced Wednesday by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is illegal to possess, traffic, import or export, unless authorized by regulation.

"Effective immediately, all activities with respect to MDPV are illegal in Canada. MDPV has been classified in the same category of drugs as heroin and cocaine," Aglukkaq said in the foyer of the House of Commons Wednesday.

Aglukkaq said border officials and police officers who find bath salts now have the power to act under the law.

"These bath salts pose a real and present danger to Canadians and the Canadian public. That is why we gave law enforcement the tools they need to get these products off our streets and out of the hands of those who may not know how harmful they are," Aglukkaq said.

Aglukkaq was joined for the announcement on Parliament Hill by Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais, Randy Franks of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and members of the RCMP and the Border Services Agency.

Franks, who is a staff inspector with Toronto police and is chair of the CACP's drug abuse committee, said the spread of the drug has been a "serious concern" to police and Wednesday's move will allow them to "deal with those who victimize some of the most vulnerable people in our communities: the young and those who suffer from addiction."

Police warnings

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The street drug known as bath salts, which contains the now-illegal hallucinogenic ingredient MDPV, are often packaged to look like regular epsom salts products.

The white, powdery MDPV is used to create bath salts which can reportedly cause hallucinations, paranoia and violent behaviour in some cases.

A number of police agencies across Canada have issued warnings in recent months about the synthetic drug spreading north from the United States.

Bath salts contain a number of amphetamine-like chemicals, including MDPV, a synthetic cathinone similar to the active ingredient in the drug khat that's chewed in parts of East Africa and in Yemen.

MDPV had not been regulated in Canada, but is now designated under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act – the same category as heroin and cocaine.

Researchers in Canada will still be able to use MDPV in scientific studies despite the ban, but they will need to seek an exemption from the regulation.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed a bill into law in July banning several drugs, including bath salts, south of the border.

Bath salts captured international headlines in May after media reports suggested the perpetrator of a face-eating attack in Miami was high on bath salts. However, it eventually came to light there was only marijuana in the attacker's system.

The move to ban MDPV is being billed as a way to help Canadian law enforcement agencies overcome problems in combatting the spread of bath salts.

As a synthetic product, drug-sniffing dogs and urine screening tests can miss bath salts. It is also difficult to track down because the drug is being packaged and sold as an authentic consumer product with labels that describe it as real bath salts, plant food or insect repellent, and say "not for human consumption."