What is Carfentanil?

Synthetic opioids are among the most illegal substances sold in the market today and one of those synthetic opioids we’re going to talk about today is called Carfentanil. What is Carfentanil and how does it affect the body? Here’s what you need to know.

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is similar to heroin, but is 5,000 to 10,000 times stronger. In many ways, it is also considered to be the analog version of Fentanyl, which is another potent painkiller. Fentanyl is used in treating severe pain and is used in general anesthesia in hospitals. However, unlike Fentanyl, Carfentanil is not approved to be used on humans, but it is commercially as a sedative for large animals like elephants or horses. 

Developed at the Janssen Pharmaceuticals in the 1970s, Carfentanil became popular because of its effects. It is currently classified as a Schedule II substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Since Carfentanil is such a powerful drug, those who handle it are required to wear protective gear and clothing so that skin contact may be avoided. This is because even the tiniest amount of this drug can be fatal to anyone who comes in contact with it. 

Carfentanil is directly related to the hundreds of overdose deaths in the United States in recent years, mainly because dealers combine it with other drugs to be more potent and to increase demand. However, those who ingest this are most often unaware of its potency, especially if they mix it with other substances. Today, the presence of this drug in heroin and cocaine has increased and is becoming a serious problem in society. 

Carfentanil is also known by other street names, such as the following:

  • Apache
  • China white
  • China girl
  • Drop-dead
  • Gray death 
  • Goodfella
  • Serial killer 
  • Tango and cash
  • TNT

Side Effects of Carfentanil

If the user is not aware of the potency of Carfentanil, chances are, it could lead to their untimely death. Because of its powerful side effects, many users will experience similar results associated with fentanyl or heroin. Users may experience brief euphoria and sedation. They may also experience the following sensations:


  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Depressed respiration
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of concentration

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning about Carfentanil, which included a disclaimer that overdose symptoms begin within a few minutes of being exposed. Because of this, the DEA warned people to seek immediate medical treatment in case they exhibit these alarming symptoms:

  • Clammy and cold skin
  • Disorientation
  • Slowed or depressed breathing
  • Sudden drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Pinpoint pupils

Because these symptoms can appear shortly after a person is exposed to the drug, the DEA recommends that a dose of naloxone be administered to the person in order to slow down the overdose. This compound is used by emergency first responders so as to help a person avoid an overdose. This will give the emergency medical services time to help the person get proper medical attention. 

Effects of Carfentanil on the Brain

Now, let’s discuss the effects of this drug on the human brain. Carfentanil can quickly bind itself to opioid receptors in the human brain. Once the drug attaches to these receptors, it will then overwhelm the neural chemistry of the brain which can lead to symptoms of overdosing almost immediately. If this is not treated right away, the person can exhibit depressed, irregular, and even completely ceased breathing. 

Carfentanil Addiction

Carfentanil also poses serious concern of addiction development to users and is usually hallmarked by dependence and tolerance, both of which develop over time if abused. Tolerance happens because the brain stops responding as it used to when it was first exposed to the drug. Repeated exposure to Carfentanil diminishes the response of the brain and, therefore, develops a tolerance. Because of this, users are forced to consume an increased dosage or amount of the drug in order to achieve the desired effects. This is also the reason why those who have developed tolerance are at high risk of experiencing an overdose.

On the other hand, dependence occurs when the brain becomes so used to the presence of the drug that when the user stops using, it can no longer function properly without it. The individual will then experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms the moment they decide to quit using a drug (in this case, Carfentanil). Although these symptoms are not usually deadly, severe cases may lead to untimely deaths.

There are also adverse behaviors that reflect the true nature of a person that is addicted to this drug. A person addicted to it may exhibit the following:

  • Stealing or borrowing money to support their drug habit.
  • Ignoring or neglecting more important roles associated with their work, school, and family. 
  • Engaging in risky or even criminal behaviors due to the lack of proper judgment. 
  • Will often have conflicts with family members, friends, or partners. 
  • They will often have financial problems. 

Case of Overdose

Overdosing on Carfentanil can be treated with the use of Narcan. This drug is an opioid antagonist that effectively reverses the side effects of the drug and stops other life-threatening symptoms that could depress the central nervous system. A person who is overdosing on Carfentanil may show the following:

  • Shallow or has stopped breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Being unresponsive
  • Show, erratic or absence of pulse rates
  • Pale or bluish skin and nails
  • Vomiting
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Limpness
  • Snore-like gurgling noise

Getting Treatment

Treatment for Carfentanil usually starts with detox where the patient is monitored for several days while ensuring their safety. Medications are also administered to the patient to help minimize the unpleasant side effects of withdrawal symptoms and ease the drug cravings. Once the detox is done, the patient will undergo a comprehensive treatment program like corrective interventions and a 12-step program. Individuals can choose to be hospitalized or reside in their own homes during the duration of their treatment. Sober living homes are also given as an option to choose for the duration of their recovery. Once they are discharged, they can continue their aftercare program with psychiatrists, counselors, and group support programs.