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Deadly Drug Awareness: Synthetic Drug W-18

With increased vigilance, law enforcement is coming into contact with more and more dangerous illicit drugs than they could have ever imagined. Many of these drugs are synthetics, that is lab-made or manmade chemicals with insane potency and the potential to be lethal.

One of the most well-known synthetic drugs is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid thats responsible for over half of all opioid overdose deaths. Other well-known synthetic drugs include: spice or K2 (synthetic cannabinoids) and bath salts (synthetic cathinones). These synthetic drugs have caused thousands of hospital emergency room visits, and are even attributed to a growing number of drug-induced deaths.

Synthetic “Designer” Drugs

There is a massive, progressive problem with the trafficking and distribution of designer drugs in the United States. Despite the type of synthetic drug (synthetic cannabinoid, synthetic stimulants, synthetic cathinones, etc.) the usual reaction from taking these synthetic compounds labeled not for human consumption, is not usually anything that mimics the effects of the illicit drug it is “supposed to be like”; instead, people find themselves exhibiting scary physical symptoms like heightened blood pressure and exorbitant heart rate, in addition to having aggressive and violent behavior, and this is only to name a couple of the symptoms.


Synthetic drugs are more dangerous than we could have ever prepared for, and the scariest part about them is their legality in the United States. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is cracking down on the sale of synthetic drugs, manufacturers will alter their ingredients and mark the package as “not safe for human consumption” to avoid their products from being removed from the shelves of various gas stations and smoke shops around the country. Despite efforts to limit or ban sales of these synthetic drugs, altered products still pop up across the nation with new names, new chemical alterations, and new packaging. These synthetic drugs are technically legal substances, as is the synthetic drug W-18.

What is W-18?

W-18 is a dangerously potent psychoactive substance created originally by a team of Canadian graduate students (three pharmaceutical chemists), at the University of Alberta. W-18 has undergone clinical trials using mice as testers of the drugs effects, but the drug has never been used in any human trials— so its effect on humans is largely unknown. What we do know about W-18 is that it “…comes in powder form, and likely derives from Chinese labs where little-known drugs and analogues of known drugs are mass-produced and sold online. It is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, greatly increasing the likelihood of overdose and death” (Tierney).

Despite scientist’s interest in W-18, it has yet to be determined what classification the synthetic drug falls into. Many speculate that W-18 must be an opioid because of its powerful analgesic (pain-killing) effect, however, W-18 has a chemical structure that does not appear in opioids.

Why was it Developed?

W-18 was initially a compound created to offer potent pain relief in a less addictive way. However, after the synthesis of W-18 and its patent, no pharmaceutical company wanted to pick it up. The powerful formulation for W-18 then sat idle until a Chinese chemist came across it, and began developing the drug to sell for profit— offering addicts a cheap and legal high.

How is W-18 Made and Distributed?

W-18 is a synthetic drug, so it can only be made in lab. Most of the supply of W-18 is found in pill or powder form, and is being shipped in from large laboratories in China and Japan. Chinese suppliers have become increasingly popular for their ability to manufacture synthetics in large quantities, and easily traffic the drugs to the United States. The DEA suspects cartels regularly oversee the manufacturing and handle the distribution portion of these drug deals.

Kevin Shanks, a forensic toxicologist at the American Institute of Toxicology, says “The people making this stuff for street distribution aren’t necessarily the most careful or have the best lab practices. I think it’s safe to say that if this stuff ever actually makes it into the street drug supply, there will be many deaths” and he adds, “We are already in bad shape now with fentanyl in the heroin supply, fentanyl analogs in the product, and other opioids like U47700 out there. I’m really afraid of these things. More than synthetic cannabinoids or substituted cathinones” (Kroll).

Why is it so Dangerous?

Aside from the obvious fact that W-18 is 100 times more powerful than the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, one major reason for its danger is how little is known about this substance. Many drug raids have occurred where authorities have seized two and a half pounds of W-18 from just one man. With this volume in individual drug raids, it’s terrifying to imagine how much of this unknown drug is being trafficked across the United States that hasn’t been seized by law enforcement.

Avoid W-18 at All Costs

Like any illicit, synthetic, prescription drug or any other addictive or harmful substance, the bottom line is that you should avoid it at all costs. As more and more experimental chemical drugs keep surfacing or resurfacing, it is important for you to be aware of deadly and dangerous drugs. In the case of W-18, we don’t know much about the substance, except for its obvious danger.

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Kroll, David. “W-18, The High-Potency Research Chemical Making News: What It Is And What It Isn’t.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2 May 2016,

Tierney, Allison. “Everything We Know So Far About W-18, the Drug That’s 100 Times More Powerful Than Fentanyl.” Vice, VICE, 1 Feb. 2016,

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