03/19/2015 03:10 EDT | Updated 05/19/2015 05:59 EDT

'Shatter' drug on radar of police in Ontario

In pictures found on social media or those distributed by police, it looks a bit like a peanut brittle, a taffy, or some kind of chewy or sticky dessert.

The RCMP say it is often amber-coloured, though its appearance can change depending on how it is produced.

Police say its common street name is shatter.

It's a product that is produced by extracting target resins from marijuana — specifically THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

As a result, shatter is highly concentrated and police warn that it is very toxic, highly addictive and its strength can catch users off-guard.

Shatter has caught the attention of law enforcement on both sides of the border, whether it is being confiscated during busts or being found at the centre of explosions that have occurred during its production.

To date, the RCMP say that no large-scale seizures of shatter have been reported in Ontario.

But police in Stratford, Ont., say they seized some shatter on Tuesday.

They say that shatter is selling in the city in the southwest part of the province for $100 a gram.

In a news release, Stratford police are asking for the public to report any sightings of "the relatively new drug" that has appeared on its streets.

A quick scroll through social media, however, suggests that shatter isn't exactly unknown to members of the public.

As one teenager tweeted Thursday, police are "like a year behind if they think shatter is a new drug."

But police are not so naive as to think shatter's appearance in Stratford is an isolated occurrence.

"I can guarantee you that if we've seen it in Stratford, other communities in southwestern Ontario have seen it as well," Stratford police Insp. Sam Theocharis told CBC News on Thursday.

Last Friday, a fire and explosion occurred at a home in Barrie, Ont., which left two people in critical condition and two others in serious condition.

Barrie police have said they believe the explosion "was due to butane canisters exploding within the garage while marijuana resin was being extracted."

When asked Thursday if this involved the production of shatter, police said they were still investigating.

Booms and busts

South of the border, the sale of shatter and the dangers of its production have been at the centre of news stories for some time.

Last June, police in Port St. Lucie, Fla., raided a suspected "shatter processing house," seizing what they described as "jars" of pot and shatter. A local news station aired footage of a man being led out of the home barefoot and in his boxer shorts, after police had entered wearing protective gear and oxygen tanks.

In September, WPRI reported that a young woman from Rhode Island was arrested, after police reported seizing shatter and the material used to produce it, as well as marijuana. Following the bust in Burrillville, Rhode Island, Col. Stephen Lynch summed up shatter as "marijuana that has been purified into its highest potency."

Earlier this year, police in Jamestown, N.Y., reported seizing nearly a pound of shatter, which they estimated had a street value exceeding $18,000.

The New York Times reported in January that Colorado saw 32 explosions last year that were attributed to THC extraction efforts — such as in the making of shatter, which the newspaper may also be called earwax or honey oil.

To extract the THC from marijuana, butane fuel is often used, the Times reports. And when fumes build up, a risk of explosion is created.

The RCMP told CBC News that butane is not the only solvent that can be involved in the shatter-production process. Hexane, isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or naptha are also used, they say.

The RCMP says the use of these solvents creates an additional risk to people consuming the shatter that is produced, as they may contain chemicals and carcinogens that are not fully removed from the end product.