The federal government intends to make methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a key ingredient in the street drug known as "bath salts," illegal.
The white powder drug that contains MDPV and other ingredients is known to cause hallucinations, paranoia and violent behaviour.
Bath salts may have played a role in a violent attack in Miami recently. Police in the Florida city say a man they killed because he was allegedly eating another man's face and refused to stop was exhibiting behaviour consistent with taking the drug. It has also been linked to other bizarre episodes and harmful incidents, according to police.
The drug started popping up in Canada a few years ago. Users typically snort, smoke or inject the drug, and experience effects similar to the kind of high users get using amphetamines.
A Nova Scotia man recently described to CBC News how the feeling he had after using the drug was scary even for an experienced drug user. He said he felt like killing himself, or someone else, and he ended up in hospital.
Bath salts contain amphetamine-type stimulants including MDPV, which is currently not regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is considered a synthetic cathinone, chemically similar to what occurs naturally in the khat plant.
Synthetic cathinones are ingredients in some legal pharmaceuticals but no legal drugs containing MDPV have been approved for sale in Canada.
What is MDPV?
MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, is a synthetic cathinone. Cathinone occurs naturally in the East African evergreen shrub known as khat. MDPV acts as a stimulant and can have similar effects as amphetamines.
Although MDPV and other cathinones have been used medically as an appetite suppressant, their appearance as recreational drugs is fairly new. The salt- or sugar-like clumps are marketed online or in retail outlets as "plant food" or "bath salts" to get around drug-control laws.
Source: The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Tuesday that the government will list MDPV on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That's the same category as heroin and cocaine, and regulating it will make possessing, trafficking, importing, exporting and producing MDPV illegal, unless authorized.
"This will make it harder for people to deal in or even manufacture these so-called bath salts," Aglukkaq said at an event in Ottawa.
"These are not typical household bath salts, they are not the Epsom salts or the scented crystals that you will find in many Canadian homes and pharmacies. These are drugs, serious drugs," she said.
The public will have until July 10 to comment on the proposal to ban MDPV and the government says unless new evidence about the chemical comes to light, it will be illegal by this fall.
The drug is already banned in the United States and other countries. It has been posing a challenge to law enforcement because as a synthetic product, drug-sniffing dogs and urine screening tests can miss it.
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 repellant, and say "not for human consumption."
Making MDPV illegal will give police the tools they need to get the products off the streets, Aglukkaq said.
Frederiction's police chief, Barry MacKnight, who is vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and chair of its drug abuse committee, said Health Canada is taking an important step.
"This is sending a strong message to Canadians and especially young Canadians that this drug is harmful," he said at the news conference.
He said MDPV appears to be more prevalent in Atlantic Canada but there is wide concern across the country. MacKnight said the recreational use of the drug and its harmful effects first came on the radar of his association in late 2010 when he met with American counterparts.