Fentanyl is an incredibly potent pain reliever. It hails from the opioid family, which contains other drugs like morphine and heroin. Not all opioids are illegal. In fact, fentanyl itself retains some prescription uses. At the same time, fentanyl in its illicit form is incredibly dangerous. Overdose and even death are major risks from fentanyl use.
Another aspect of fentanyl use that few people consider is how it changes the brain. Fentanyl’s effects on the brain are real and something that people who use fentanyl overlook at their peril. Looking at fentanyl and the brain goes beyond just its addictiveness and explores the impact fentanyl use has on brain functioning in general.
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Fentanyl and the Brain: Side Effects
Fentanyl works on the brain similarly to other opioids like heroin or morphine. When someone uses fentanyl, the drug binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and elsewhere throughout the body. Opioid receptors are related to our experiences of pain and emotional regulation. This is why people who use fentanyl at first experience euphoria and a “high” feeling.
Taking fentanyl also floods the brain with dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally-occurring brain chemical and vitally important for normal brain functioning. The problem is that fentanyl causes an intense dopamine wave that goes far beyond what the brain normally produces. Again, this explains why fentanyl produces that initial rush. Long-term use essentially impedes the brain’s ability to regulate its dopamine levels, which can lead to all kinds of mental and emotional issues.
Other common physiological side effects of fentanyl include:
- Slowed breathing
Dangerous Fentanyl Effects on the Brain
The previous section covered how fentanyl and the brain interact. Now, it is worth unpacking more about why fentanyl’s effects on the brain can be so dangerous and explore opioid receptors in a bit more detail. Not only do they play a role in how the body experiences pain, but opioid receptors also control respiration and breathing. In high enough doses, fentanyl sends these receptors into overdrive to the point where they cease functioning effectively. Fentanyl can slow down breathing and even cause someone to stop breathing altogether. After that, death becomes imminent and quick.
Overdose from fentanyl use is always a significant concern, but the other element to beware of is potential addiction. The dopamine rush from fentanyl changes mood and perception. The brain is wired to pursue things that bring it pleasure, even in cases like fentanyl use, where the level of pleasure is unnatural and beyond what is ordinarily possible. Essentially, fentanyl use can rewire the brain as the brain pursues what feels good.
Building on top of its addictiveness is fentanyl’s ability to build tolerance in the body quickly. Tolerance here refers to when a person’s body gets used to a certain amount of the drug. It ends up needing more to produce the same effect. Over time, the brain produces less dopamine on its own as it becomes accustomed to the rush produced by fentanyl use. This explains why numerous people who use fentanyl regularly end up feeling depressed or struggling with related mental health concerns.
The Brain and Fentanyl: the Withdrawal Process
Another factor to consider regarding the brain and fentanyl is the withdrawal process. Withdrawal is a state that sets in whenever the body is unable to function without the presence of a drug between uses—side effects set in as the body struggles to cope. Fentanyl’s strength is matched by the weight of its withdrawal symptoms. During withdrawal from fentanyl, people experience restlessness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Overcome Fentanyl Addiction With Rockland Recovery
Fentanyl’s effects on the brain are not necessarily permanent. Fentanyl addiction treatment can reverse the negative impacts of fentanyl use and restore the brain to its original functioning. Contact 855.732.4842 to learn more about how to reverse fentanyl effects on the brain through comprehensive addiction treatment.