What Does Fentanyl Do to You?

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Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid first approved for medical use in pain treatment, especially with cancer patients. As it became more widely used and its potency became known, drug sellers began diverting fentanyl to recreational users via forged prescriptions and collusion with unethical pharmacists and physicians to get their hands on larger and larger amounts of the drug.

By the early 2000s, people in the illicit drug trade were manufacturing their own fentanyl, causing even more of the drug to flood the market alone or as an additive to other illegal substances like heroin and cocaine. The result is a surge in abuse that places fentanyl as one of the most dangerous substances available today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fentanyl was responsible for 60% of the fatal overdoses in the U.S. in 2021. That same year, there were almost 123,000 fentanyl-related emergency department visits. Those numbers reveal a significant increase over the past several years.

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What Are the Risks of Taking Fentanyl?

Short-term risks of taking fentanyl include intense euphoria, impaired coordination and judgment, dizziness, vomiting or nausea, and respiratory distress. Long-term use can lead to addiction and painful withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Muscle and bone pain.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes and goosebumps.
  • Uncontrollable leg movements.
  • Severe cravings.

Such severe symptoms, which can start as soon as a few hours after the drug was taken, make it difficult to detoxify from fentanyl alone. If you or someone close to you is struggling with fentanyl dependence or any substance use disorder, Guardian Recovery can help. We will work with you to develop an individualized and effective program to help you recover from addiction and get you started on the road to long-term recovery. We believe in the benefits of a full curriculum of clinical care, beginning with medical detoxification, transitioning into a higher level of treatment, and concluding with personalized aftercare planning. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options in your area.

What Happens to Someone Physically During an Overdose?

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent the heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, making it easy to overdose on the substance. Just two milligrams— equivalent to 10–15 grains of table salt — can be lethal.

During an overdose, fentanyl acts on the central nervous system to reduce respiration and heart rate. It can also cause drowsiness, confusion, disorientation, and coma. In severe cases, it may lead to death due to respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest. Signs of a fentanyl overdose include

  • Slow respiration (less than 8 breaths per minute).
  • Pale and clammy skin.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Dizziness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of consciousness.

If you think someone has overdosed on fentanyl, seek medical help immediately, as untreated overdoses can be fatal. If there is an opioid reversal kit (naloxone) available, use it immediately – do not wait for help to arrive.

Do All Synthetic Opioids Cause the Same Effects?

No, not all synthetic opioids cause the same effects. Some produce sensations similar to other opioids like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, methadone, and heroin. Synthetic opioids have different potency levels, leading to different reactions in people. Some, such as buprenorphine and methadone, may be used for medical purposes and can produce other side effects than recreational drugs like fentanyl or heroin.

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Can You Tell if You Have Had Accidental Exposure to Fentanyl?

If you believe you have had accidental exposure to fentanyl, there are a few signs and symptoms to look out for. These include drowsiness, confusion, shallow or difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, and sometimes seizures. While there is no proof that you can be exposed to a dangerous level of fentanyl through the skin, other methods like inhalation or oral (word) are more possible. It is essential to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms after potential exposure to fentanyl. If there is an opioid reversal kit (naloxone) available, ask someone you trust to administer it immediately.

How Long After Fentanyl Use Until You Feel Symptoms?

Fentanyl is a short-acting opioid, like heroin. You can feel the effects of the substance within minutes of taking it. However, the exact amount of time depends on how it was taken. In general, if ingested orally, it will take around 15-30 minutes to take effect and last several hours. If injected intravenously or intramuscularly, the onset is typically faster and can last up to six hours. The duration and intensity of the effects also depend on other factors such as body weight and tolerance level.

When Do the Symptoms of Fentanyl Subside?

The effects of fentanyl typically last for around 4-6 hours. The exact duration can vary widely – from 30 minutes to 3 days – depending on other factors such as dosage, body weight, and tolerance level. How you use fentanyl and the dosage will determine the following:

  • How soon it starts working.
  • The intensity of the effects.
  • The length of the high.
  • How long it stays in your body.

Combining fentanyl with other substances, such as alcohol, can extend the duration of the effects.

Can You Self-Administer Naloxone?

Naloxone is a lifesaving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. It is small, easy to use, and available at pharmacies in most states without a prescription. However, you cannot administer it yourself as you will probably be incapacitated or unconscious if you overdose. If you suspect you are overdosing, seek assistance administering naloxone and ask someone to call for medical help immediately.

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Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that is highly addictive and prevalent throughout the U.S. Its potency is 50 times that of heroin, making it easy to overdose, especially if mixed with another substance. If you or someone you care about has a dependency on fentanyl, the experienced and compassionate medical, clinical, and administrative staff at Guardian Recovery are ready to help. We provide comprehensive treatment, including medically-assisted detox, therapy, specialty programs, and reintegration support. We will guide you through every step of your recovery from your first call and throughout your recovery. We provide a complimentary assessment and a free insurance benefits check and help coordinate local travel to our facility. All you have to do is ask for help; we will take care of the rest. Contact us today.


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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.

  1. https://www.lexipol.com/resources/blog/first-responder-fentanyl-exposure-what-you-need-to-know/
  2. https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/issue-brief-increases-in-opioid-related-overdose.pdf.
  3. https://www.statnews.com/2018/12/21/passive-fentanyl-exposure-myth-reality/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ershdb/emergencyresponsecard_29750022.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/synthetic/index.html
  6. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Synthetic%20Opioids-2020.pdf
  7. https://www.goodrx.com/fentanyl/how-long-does-fentanyl-stay-in-your-system

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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:

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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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