Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that has been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fentanyl is prescribed legally because of the immediate effect it has on a person’s brain, a reality that makes the drug useful in a number of situations. Fentanyl is also used illegally for the manner it can impact a person’s brain processes, causing a person to experience a major uptick in dopamine levels. Understanding how fentanyl impacts a person’s brain is important to recognizing the hazards associated with this powerful and potentially deadly drug. 

Legal Uses of Fentanyl

The FDA has approved the use of fentanyl for one of two primary purposes:

  • Fentanyl has been approved for use as a painkiller in a limited number of situations. The drug typically is provided to a patient via a patch. Generally, fentanyl is used for a painkiller in situations in which other alternatives aren’t readily effective. A prime example is a situation in which an individual is in Stage 4 of cancer and palliative care has become the objective.
  • Fentanyl is also used as an anesthetic. It is provided to a patient during the surgical process by an anesthesiologist. 

Biological Impact of Fentanyl on Your Brain

Fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors in your brain. Morphine and heroin have the same functionality in your brain. There is a marked difference between fentanyl versus morphine and heroin. Fentanyl works on your brain’s opioid receptors far faster than does morphine or heroin. In addition, fentanyl impacts your brain far, far faster than does morphine or heroin. The bottom line is that fentanyl is between 50 to 100-times more powerful than morphine or heroin. 

Like morphine and heroin, fentanyl significantly boots the level of dopamine in your brain. In point of fact, a fair assessment is to state that fentanyl floods your brain with dopamine. At the outset, this flooding of your brain with dopamine results in your experiencing a number of “feelings” that include:

  • Reward
  • Pleasure
  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation

In short speed, the use of fentanyl damages your opioid receptors. The net effect of this damage is that dopamine not only won’t flood your brain but it really won’t release at all. Biologically, you may end up unable to experience positive feelings like pleasure or euphoria. 

Fentanyl is a highly addictive drug. A person can become addicted to fentanyl after minimal use. A person who is addicted to fentanyl faces the prospect of inpatient treatment in order to address the issue. Inpatient treatment typically must begin with medically supervised detox. Withdrawal from fentanyl detox can be severely challenging from a physical, psychological, and emotional standpoint. 

High Risk of Fentanyl Overdose

Because fentanyl impacts your brain so rapidly, the drug affects your entire body in short speed. The dire reality is that the potential to overdose on fentanyl is something that can happen in an extremely short period of time. Indeed, a fentanyl overdose can occur in a matter of two or three minutes in some instances.

As fentanyl works on your brain, the brain itself “sends messages” throughout the body. In very basic terms, these include messages that slows down the functioning of your lungs. Fentanyl can result in your brain messaging your lungs to relax to the point that they don’t function at all. In other words, a fentanyl overdose can actually result in you suffocating to death. You very well may be fully aware that you are suffocating but find yourself in a position in which you can do nothing about it. This includes even doing something as seemingly simple as asking someone for help. 

Fentanyl and Permanent Brain Damage

In addition to fentanyl having the ability to damage opioid receptors, the drug can have a far broader and more pervasively negative impact on your brain. As mentioned previously, fentanyl has the ability to impair and even stop lung functioning. When that occurs, the blood supply to your brain is inhibited or stopped altogether. This prevents the brain from getting the nutrients and oxygen it must have to function. 

If your brain lacks oxygen for more than a matter of several minutes, even if blood flow is restored, permanent brain damage can occur. Brain damage can impact everything from your cognitive abilities to motor functioning, including impairment of legs and arms.

Fentanyl Contamination and the Health of Innocent People

Not only can fentanyl have an impact on the brain of a person who ingests the drug, but it can also present a serious risk to people who come into contact with something that has been contaminated by fentanyl. For example, if fentanyl was stored or used in an apartment that was re-rented to someone else, the premise might be contaminated by the drug. Even what seems like minimal fentanyl contamination can be sufficient to cause a person who comes into contact with remnants of the drug at a later date to become ill, and sometimes seriously so.