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Medically Reviewed

Understanding Xylazine: The Effects and Risks of the Emerging Drug on the Streets

- 8 sections

Medically Reviewed: June 12, 2023

Medical Reviewer

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Many may have heard about xylazine, the latest substance infiltrating the US’s drug supply. This drug has experts feeling worried, but what is xylazine, exactly?

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer that is not approved for human use. Veterinarians use xylazine to provide sedation and pain relief for horses, cows, and small animals during surgery and other procedures.[1] However, xylazine is showing up in the United States’ illicit drug supply more and more as time goes on and is linked to numerous overdose deaths.

As the drug makes its way into every region’s drug supply, experts have become increasingly worried about its effects on people who use illicit drugs–especially opioids. In recent years, xylazine was involved in nearly 1 in 3 deaths from heroin or fentanyl in some areas of the country.[2]

This article will explore the risks of xylazine, how to limit your risk of medical complications and overdose, and how to find addiction treatment to help you stop using opioids safely. Reach out to the Charlotte Detox Center specialists for more information about addiction treatment and recovery.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a non-opioid animal tranquilizer often called “tranq” or “tranq dope.” It is not a controlled substance but is not approved for human use. It is not possible to legally purchase xylazine without a veterinary license. Users may experience a “high” or euphoria similar to the effects of opioids.

Drug traffickers may add xylazine to illicit drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine. Adding xylazine to these drugs adds to the weight of these drugs, which allows the seller to make more money. It may also enhance the effects of other drugs. People who purchase and use illicit drugs may be unaware they are ingesting it.

How Do People Use Xylazine?

People typically ingest xylazine with other illicit drugs in several ways, including:

  • Smoking
  • Snorting
  • Injecting
  • Swallowing
  • Inhaling

People may use the drug knowingly or ingest it without knowledge while using other illicit drugs. Some may also give xylazine to others without their knowledge, allowing them to commit sexual assault or other crimes.

Can You Become Addicted to Xylazine?

Yes, it’s possible to become addicted to xylazine. You may develop dependence and addiction if you repeatedly use xylazine or drugs mixed with it. People who use xylazine repeatedly and then stop often experience withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Agitation
  • Disabling migraines
  • Vision changes
  • Severe anxiety

Xylazine withdrawal can be so debilitating that many people cannot withstand the pain and relapse before detox is complete. People who are exposed to xylazine must seek treatment from a medically-supported drug detox center to safely detox from the drug and manage the symptoms of withdrawal.

The Effects of Xylazine

The effects of xylazine include:[3]

  • Sedation
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Slowed central nervous system activity
  • Skin ulcers and abscesses
  • Delayed healing of injuries
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Amnesia
  • Low blood sugar
  • Elevated blood sugar

Xylazine use can lead to overdose. A drug overdose is a life-threatening medical emergency. Seek immediate medical assistance if you or someone near you exhibits symptoms of an overdose. Although xylazine is not an opioid, you should still administer naloxone to reverse the effects of any opioids in the person’s system. Medical care for an overdose also includes IV fluids, monitoring, and breathing support.

Understanding the Risks of Xylazine Use

Xylazine is unsafe for human use and can lead to serious, life-threatening complications, including death from overdose. Some of the most significant risks include:

  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate
  • Infected wounds (xylazine is linked to a variety of infections and can cause necrotic flesh wounds, skin ulcers, and more.)[4]
  • Sedation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms

There is currently no reliable treatment for xylazine overdose like there is for opioid overdose. People who overdose on xylazine are at severe risk of death.

How To Reduce the Risk of Xylazine Abuse

People who use illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and other opioids are at risk of accidental exposure to xylazine. Because xylazine is becoming increasingly common in the United States’ illicit drug supply, it is nearly impossible to know whether or not you are ingesting xylazine if you use other drugs.

The best way to reduce your risk of xylazine use is to stop using any illicit drugs. Learn about the dangers of illegal drug use, identify signs of drug abuse or addiction, and seek treatment as soon as possible to reduce your risk of life-threatening harm to your mental and physical health.

Do I Need Addiction Treatment?

Recognizing addiction is the first step toward getting the help you need. Addiction is characterized by a complete loss of control over your substance use, compulsive substance use, and continuing to use drugs despite harm to your health, safety, relationships, and well-being.

Comprehensive addiction treatment can help you address the emotional, physical, and behavioral aspects of your addiction and learn the skills to avoid relapse for the rest of your life. You’ll find the treatment and support you need to put addiction in the past and move toward a healthier future.

Find Substance Abuse Treatment Now

If you or someone you love needs substance abuse treatment, contact the addiction specialists at Charlotte Detox Center today. Get the help you need to treat xylazine abuse and addiction.