What Fentanyl Does To Your Brain

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful pain relievers available. It’s a prescription opioid that helps with the management of severe, chronic pain, most often in patients with cancer. Unfortunately, because it is a fast-acting opioid that can create a dramatic sense of euphoria when people begin using it, there is a high potential for abuse.

Fentanyl has become one of the key culprits in the opioid epidemic that’s taken hold around the U.S., because of how potent it is, and in many ways how easy it is to obtain.

While it is a schedule II drug that’s meant only to be given in very particular circumstances by prescription, Chinese manufacturers often send versions of it to Mexico, where it then comes into the U.S.

Fentanyl is considered to be anywhere from 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, which is one of the numerous reasons it has such a significant potential for abuse.

What Fentanyl Does To Your Brain
Much of the power of fentanyl in terms of being a pain reliever and also in that it is a frequently abused drug comes from what fentanyl does to your brain. As with other opioids including heroin and morphine, fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors that are found throughout the brain and the body. They’re located in areas of the brain that regulate how you experience pain and also how your emotions are regulated. When you take a drug like fentanyl, and it binds to these receptors, they flood your brain’s reward centers with dopamine. Dopamine occurs naturally, but not at levels like it does when someone takes fentanyl. This flood of dopamine is what creates euphoria and a sense of extreme relaxation. What fentanyl does to your brain and how fentanyl affects the brain are similar to heroin, but even more powerful, and in addition to euphoria and relaxation, other signs of the effects of the drug can include nausea, drowsiness, sedation, confusion, respiratory depression, respiratory arrest, coma and even death.
What fentanyl does to your brain not only indicates why people feel high from it but also why it’s so dangerous. Your opioid receptors are responsible for controlling your respiration and rate of breathing. When you take even a prescribed dose of fentanyl, it can slow down your respiration, but if you take higher doses, particularly with something as potent as fentanyl, it can lead you to stop breathing altogether. With the powerful nature of fentanyl, your risk of overdose is already increased overtaking even other dangerous opioids like heroin. Also what fentanyl does to your brain shows the reason it has such a high likelihood of abuse and dependence. When you take it, and you get that initial flood of dopamine, it’s almost as if the drug takes over your limbic system. Your brain is wired to want to continue seeking out things that bring pleasure, and in this case, it’s the drug. That’s one of the reasons opioids are so addictive. Drugs like fentanyl in many ways rewire your brain so that you’re conditioning to continue seeking it. When you take fentanyl repeatedly, there’s not only the triggering of your reward system that comes into play, but you eventually build a tolerance for that drug and how it interacts with your brain. You’ll then need more of the drug to feel that same euphoric rush, and your brain ultimately stops working in the same way it did before you used opioids. Your brain will no longer produce as much dopamine as it did naturally before you started taking drugs, which is why so many people who are addicted to fentanyl and other drugs feel depression. Other things to know about how fentanyl affects the brain and what fentanyl does to your brain include:
  • Opioid drugs stop your brain’s natural production of norepinephrine and depress the central nervous system
  • They reduce not only functions of the respiratory system like breathing, but they also slow your heart rate and reduce your body temperature
  • It’s believed that chronic, long-term use of fentanyl and opioids can deteriorate the white matter in your brain. When this happens, changes can occur to how your emotions are regulated, how you react to stress and your decision-making.
While much of the attention of the abuse of fentanyl is placed on people who abuse it, it’s also important to realize that there are people who get addicted without abusing it and only taking it as directed by a doctor. Because it is more pure than regular meth, ice is more addictive and creates an extended high that users can feel up to 24 hours after use. It is typically manufactured in chemical “super labs” that can preserve its potency with little to no additives. Using methamphetamine in any form can result in a number of harmful side effects and health risks. Some of the most common symptoms of meth abuse include:
  • Dilated pupils
  • Anxiety
  • Teeth grinding
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Meth sores
  • Meth mouth
  • Kidney failure
  • Bacterial infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Overdose
  • Death
Something else relevant to understanding what fentanyl does to your brain and how fentanyl affects the brain is the concept of withdrawal. As was touched on above, when you build a tolerance for fentanyl and then stop using it, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal, which is a response of your brain and systems in your body to becoming used to the presence of fentanyl and then not having it. Because of the potency of fentanyl, the withdrawal symptoms can also be severe and include restlessness, sweating, anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, weakness, cramps, insomnia, and high blood pressure. It’s important for people to realize what fentanyl does to your brain, even when you’re using it as prescribed. The ways how fentanyl affects the brain are even more dramatic when you’re abusing it, and it can be a potent, scary drug in so many ways because of the influence it has on the brain and central nervous system of the user.
What Fentanyl Does To Your Brain
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