Tramadol is an opioid painkiller that is considered a controlled substance and narcotic as of March 2022. Health Canada decided to change tramadol’s status to have more safeguards in place to help prevent substance abuse and other possible health risks. Still have doubts? Here are answers to some common questions on this topic.

What is a controlled substance?

According to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada, a controlled substance is a drug that the federal government strictly controls because it can be abused or improperly used and therefore may be harmful to the health of Canadians. The control applies to making, handling, using, distributing, and storing the substance.

Some common controlled substances include stimulants, opioids, hallucinogens, depressants, and anabolic steroids.

Controlled substances with medical applications such as Valium, morphine, and Ritalin are only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare professional. As of March 2022, tramadol is listed as a controlled substance in Canada. This means verbal prescriptions and refills are not allowed for tramadol. Tramadol can only be filled at a pharmacy with a written prescription without refill quantity.

Those controlled substances with no medical use, such as LSD and heroin, are illegal in Canada.

Is tramadol a controlled substance? Is tramadol a narcotic?

Yes, tramadol is included in Schedule I under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) as of March 2022. It is legally considered both a controlled substance and a narcotic. This means it is subjected to the same regulatory requirements applicable for other opioid painkillers.

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Tramadol is a synthetic opioid painkiller; it is closely related to other opioids such as morphine, fentanyl, or oxycodone. Tramadol is considered a weaker opioid compared to its “cousins”, but it is still associated with health risks like addiction and dependence. Deaths have been reported associated with tramadol use across the world. Health Canada decided to change tramadol’s status to help prevent these health harms in Canada.

When is tramadol going to be a controlled substance? 

Health Canada implemented tramadol’s new status – as a controlled substance schedule I drug – on March 31, 2022.

Will tramadol be a controlled substance everywhere in Canada?

Yes, tramadol will be considered a controlled substance throughout Canada.

What does this change mean for me?

This amendment should not significantly affect the way a patient can use tramadol. The main changes affecting patients are that tramadol is no longer available via verbal prescriptions, and refills are no longer allowed. The purpose of these changes is to make tramadol safer to use and make sure all patients have adequate monitoring from a healthcare provider while taking tramadol. If you are concerned about your access to this medication, talk to your healthcare provider who prescribes you tramadol. 

What are the side effects of using tramadol?

Some common side effects include:

  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Drowsiness

Other side effects may include:

  • Heartburn or stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite

Severe side effects include:

  • Suicidality
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Severely low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Imapired consciousness
  • Severe allergic reaction
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