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Rudy Eugene (L) and Ronald Poppo are seen in this combination of undated handout photos released by the Miami-Dade Police Department May 30, 2012.Handout

A drug that turns people into super-strong cannibals sounds like a threat right out of B-movie Hollywood.

After a few years of growing alarm about a designer drug known on the street as "bath salts," Miami police ratcheted up the fear-factor by blaming it for a gruesome attack that left a man with most of his face chewed off.

It was at least the second time this year a nude man in the Florida city is alleged to have attacked another person with his teeth. And last weekend in Miami, police say yet another man believed to have taken the drug growled and snapped his jaws "like an animal" as he threatened to eat an officer.

It's unclear why Miami has become ground zero for extreme reactions to this drug. But the attacks have brought widespread attention to a drug that was already raising alarm bells.

"It causes them to go completely insane and become very violent," Armando Aguilar, president of Miami's Fraternal Order of Police, told a local CNN affiliate.

But others warn that some of the claims being bandied about are exaggerated or unsubstantiated.

"You see reports of superhuman strength; that sensationalism is crazy, nobody has superhuman strength," Matthew Young, senior research and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, said recently in an interview from Ottawa. He was aware of "no evidence" to support claims that the drug provokes the use of teeth as a weapon.

He worries that fear-mongering may undermine the more important message: that the drug is dangerous and should not be taken "under any circumstances."

There are various drug combinations that can make up the substance dubbed bath salts, a name thought to have been chosen because of its appearance or to help it fly under the radar. In Canada it typically contains the stimulants methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone and methylone. It is smoked, inhaled or injected.

On Tuesday, Ottawa signalled it would ban MDPV.

"This action helps give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our streets safe from this new and emerging drug that ruins lives and causes havoc in communities across the country," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told a news conference.

Although a national assessment released last Friday by the CCSA indicated limited Canadian use of this drug, its increasing visibility has been marked by waves of alarm wherever it gets a foothold.

The drug is so new, though, that many questions remain.

No country has a firm sense of how many people are taking it. The long-term effects remain to be learned. Police and hospital workers see only those who are reacting badly, while people with positive or neutral experiences are not noticed, making it hard to measure the danger. And it's often unclear whether people who suffer extreme reactions have underlying mental health problems or are using several substances at once.

The CCSA's report, done with the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, showed scant evidence of the drug in most of the country. Only in the Maritimes, specifically in the Nova Scotia town of New Glasgow, was a significant number of cases seen. Local health officials reported at least 14 incidents related to the drug in the last few months.

"I've looked at a lot of drugs over the years and this is scarier, mainly because of the unknowns," the CCSA's Dr. Young said. "We don't know a lot, and what we know is scary."

While on the drug, users' body temperatures can rise or fall dramatically, heartbeat accelerates and users may experience paranoia or delusions. In high or repeat doses, the drugs can cause panic attacks, psychosis and bruxism, a clenching of the teeth or grinding of the jaw.

Although toxicology results on the face-eating incident in Miami will not be available until sometime in June, police and local doctors were quick to point the finger at the drug.

In late May, according to a witness, Rudy Eugene "growled" and continued biting into the victim's face when ordered by police to cease his attack. An officer opened fire, killing Mr. Eugene. The victim, whose face is said to be largely destroyed, was identified as Ronald Poppo, a homeless man.

In a separate incident in April, a man wearing no clothes and trying to bite another person was zapped with a stun-gun in West Miami. He died later, a local paper reported.