Xylazine is a common veterinary medication used to make the handling and treatment of animals easier. Despite its users for animals, there has been an increase in the human use of xylazine in the United States as an adulterant(additive) in drugs of abuse like heroin. But what are the side effects of xylazine in humans? Can this drug be potentially fatal?
What Is Xylazine?
Xylazine is a drug used in veterinary medicine as a sedative with analgesic and muscle relaxant properties. This non-narcotic agent was first synthesized in 1962 by the Bayer Company. Today, it is used on many different animals in veterinary medication, such as cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, cats, deer, rats, and more, to calm them and facilitate handling, perform diagnostic and surgical procedures, alleviate pain, or act as a local anesthetic.
Xylazine use is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for veterinary use only. While xylazine human use has been studied for its potential use as an analgesic, hypnotic, and anesthetic, the clinical trials for use on people were terminated due to the drug’s severe impact on blood pressure and the central nervous system.
Xylazine works by acting as an agonist at alpha-2 adrenergic receptors, meaning it decreases the release of norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system. As a result, side effects like sedation and relaxation may occur. Research indicates that xylazine may also impact serotonin, dopamine, and opioid receptors, which is likely why it has become a more common drug among heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine abusers.
Xylazine Side Effects in Humans
So, if xylazine is a veterinary drug, why do people use it? As we mentioned, xylazine may cause a high in people who use it for recreational purposes. Like heroin or other depressants, this drug may increase the levels of dopamine in the brain and block pain signaling.
The use of xylazine in humans is also common because the drug is used as an adulterant with illicit substances. An adulterant refers to another drug that is used to “cut” or is added to other drugs like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and counterfeit prescription drugs. Otherwise known as cutting agents, adulterants may be used by drug dealers to make a drug more addictive and make the product weigh more, allowing them to gain more profit.
In addition to being used as a cutting agent, xylazine may also be used to induce sleep. Considering that xylazine is not approved for human use, using this drug for any person other than veterinary medicine can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Common side effects of xylazine in humans include:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- Respiratory depression
- Pinpoint pupils
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
In non-fatal cases of xylazine drug use in humans, reported doses ranged from 30 to 4,600 mL. In cases of fatal xylazine overdose, doses were as high as 16,000 mL. As with other drug overdoses, xylazine overdoses require immediate medical attention.
Help for Drug Abuse and Addiction
Although there is no specific xylazine addiction treatment available, our Chicago rehab offers various levels of addiction care as well as substance-specific programs that could help someone with a xylazine abuse problem. What’s more, because this substance is often used as an additive in other drugs like heroin and cocaine, our facility’s heroin, cocaine, and opioid addiction treatment programs can aid in regaining sobriety and overall health.