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Can Fentanyl Paralyze You?

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Yes, fentanyl can cause paralysis, although it is relatively rare. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, up to 100 times more potent than morphine. (1) It’s used clinically to manage severe pain, especially pain related to cancer or surgery. Fentanyl is also commonly found illicitly on the black market, sometimes cut into heroin or concealed in counterfeit pills.

Guardian Recovery provides comprehensive treatment for the misuse of fentanyl, other opioids, and a wide variety of addictive drugs and alcohol. The levels of care we offer include medical detoxmedication-assisted treatmentbehavioral therapysupport groups, and more. Contact us today to learn more about our evidence-based services and activities and how we can help you overcome addiction and maintain long-lasting sobriety and wellness.

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Fentanyl Side Effects That Affect Ability to Function

One of the potential side effects of fentanyl, primarily when used in high doses or in combination with other medications, is muscle rigidity or paralysis. (2) This can occur because fentanyl affects the central nervous system and interferes with muscle movement.

Other Common Fentanyl Side Effects That Affect Function Include:

  • Drowsiness and sedation.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Reduced alertness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Impaired motor coordination and balance.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Severe constipation.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Severe confusion.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Trouble thinking.
  • Poor judgment and decision-making.

Can Fentanyl Exposure Cause Fainting?

Exposure to fentanyl can cause fainting, also known as syncope. (3) This is because fentanyl attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which cause various effects, including sedation, respiratory depression, and lowered blood pressure—this can cause a person to pass out. Fainting occurs when there is a temporary loss of consciousness due to a sudden drop in blood flow to the brain. For example, this can happen when blood pressure drops too low when someone ingests an excessive amount of fentanyl or when they first start using it.

Can Opioids Cause Paralysis?

Opioids can cause various side effects and occasionally can lead to a condition known as opioid-induced paralysis. This is an uncommon but severe side effect that can occur with high doses of opioids. It is hallmarked by a sudden, temporary loss of muscle strength or paralysis in one or more body parts.

The precise mechanism by which opioids can cause paralysis is not fully understood. It is thought to be linked to the effects of opioids on the central nervous system. Opioids can interfere with nerve impulses and signal transmission between the brain and muscles, leading to immobility.

Chest Wall & Abdominal Muscle Rigidity Related to Fentanyl Use

Chest wall and abdominal muscle rigidity are potential side effects of fentanyl use. (4) This occurs when muscles become tense and stiff, making movement challenging or impossible. This can also make breathing difficult, leading to severe respiratory issues.

As with paralysis, the mechanism by which fentanyl causes muscle rigidity is not fully understood. Still, it is thought to be related to the effects of opioids on the central nervous system. Fentanyl can interfere with the normal functioning of the muscles, causing them to become stiff and inflexible.

Difficulty Breathing

Fentanyl can cause difficulty breathing due to respiratory depression, which occurs when breathing becomes shallow or slow, decreasing the blood’s oxygen level. This can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and even respiratory failure. The risk of respiratory depression from fentanyl is increased with high doses or rapid ingestion.

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Does Fentanyl Cause Long-Term or Irreversible Damage?

One potential long-term consequence of fentanyl use is the development of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tolerance occurs when the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the medication and requires higher doses to achieve the same amount of pain relief or pleasant feelings and euphoria.

Dependence occurs when the brain relies on a substance to provide certain neurochemicals and experiences withdrawal symptoms when the substance is discontinued. Addiction is a chronic disease that often begins with dependence and increasing tolerance, but it is further characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior and continued use despite negative consequences.

Chronic fentanyl use can also have adverse physical effects, such as life-threatening respiratory depression, which reduces oxygen levels, leading to brain and organ damage, and other serious health problems. Other potential long-term effects of fentanyl use include severe constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, and infection from IV drug use. (5) Additionally, fentanyl is a potent drug, much more powerful than other opioids. As a result, overdoses can occur more rapidly.

Naloxone for Reverting Respiratory Depression & Restoring Bodily Function

Naloxone reverses respiratory depression by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the drug’s effects. When administered, naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing and consciousness in someone overdosing on opioids. It is available in various forms, including injectable, nasal spray, and auto-injector. (6)

Naloxone is typically used in emergency settings, such as in ambulances, emergency rooms, and hospitals, as well as by law enforcement and other first responders. However, it is also available for use by family members and friends of individuals who use opioids through prescription or over-the-counter access. Importantly, naloxone is not a substitute for comprehensive addiction treatment—it is only a temporary solution that can help save a person’s life in an overdose emergency.

Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Overdose Include:

  • Slow, shallow, or difficult breathing.
  • Cyanosis, or blue/grey lips and fingernails.
  • Constricted pupils.
  • Extreme drowsiness or unresponsiveness.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Limp or weak muscles.
  • Slow or weak pulse.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Delirium.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seizures.

A fentanyl overdose can occur accidentally or deliberately, and it is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If you suspect someone is experiencing a fentanyl overdose, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Ways to Help a Person Overdosing on Fentanyl or Other Opioids Include:

  1. After you call 911, stay with the person until first responders arrive. Check their breathing and keep them awake if possible.
  2. If available, administer naloxone (Narcan), an antidote that reverses overdose effects, including severe central nervous system depression. (7) Open the package and follow the instructions to deliver the medication.
  3. Stay with the person until first responders arrive. If they have stopped breathing, administer CPR if you know how or as directed by a 911 operator. (8)
  4. Follow any instructions given by EMS personnel. They may administer additional treatments and transport the person to a hospital for additional care.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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