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What Is Xylazine? Canada’s Dangerous New Drug Explained

The urgent need for opioid detox and treatment remains high in Canada as the ongoing crisis shows no signs of slowing down. Further exacerbating the issue is the emergence of xylazine, a powerful sedative with no known antidote.

But what is xylazine, and where does it come from?

In this article, we’ll dive deep into this hazardous substance—commonly known as “tranq” or the “zombie drug”—and discuss outcomes for those with xylazine addiction.

An Overview of Xylazine

Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative with powerful muscle-relaxing and pain-relieving effects. Typically used on larger animals such as horses and cows, veterinarians administer xylazine to put them to sleep before surgical procedures and diagnostic testing.

It is also used in dogs and cats, in varying doses, and could also be used in various species of deer, elk, and rats. However, it has not been approved for human use.

The first known instance of human use was in the early 2000s in Puerto Rico, it has now made its way to Canada despite the risks. In Ontario alone, identification counts have risen from 9 in 2020 to 1,011 in 2022—xylazine addiction is on the rise.

Even more concerning is how fentanyl powder is often mixed with xylazine as a way to heighten the effects of the drug and lower its street price. Yet, unlike the already dangerous fentanyl, xylazine overdose cannot be treated with naloxone.

Right now, xylazine currently has no known antidote.

 a man passed out on the floor

Xylazine Side Effects in Humans

An effective way of preventing any kind of drug overdose deaths is knowing how illicit substances affect humans. While xylazine is not an opioid, many of its side effects in humans are similar.

The effects of xylazine intoxication may include:

  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing);
  • Amnesia;
  • Drowsiness;
  • A dramatic drop in blood pressure (hypotension);
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting; and
  • Slowed or completely stopped heart rate.

While it varies based on consumption method and mixing, the effects of xylazine generally begin within minutes and typically last for eight or more hours. Doses ranging anywhere from 40 to 2400mg are powerful enough to be lethal.

When mixed with other drugs such as ketamine, benzodiazepines, or alcohol, xylazine can increase the risk of death by overdose. Xylazine and fentanyl mixtures are particularly dangerous given the latter’s well-known potency.

Some fall into “blackout” states, increasing their risk of getting into fatal accidents due to confusion, robbery, or walking into traffic. Other cases report developing brain injuries as a result of having mild (but consistent) overdoses.

Depending on the method of consumption, those battling xylazine addiction may also be at risk of skin infections, ulcers, and sepsis.

Some wounds can potentially become necrotic, appearing as a scaly, black dead tissue known as eschar. These are also the type of wounds that can penetrate the bone, resulting in “rotting flesh,” requiring amputation of the limb.

Withdrawal Symptoms

You might be wondering: what is xylazine withdrawal similar to?

Withdrawal symptoms for those with xylazine addiction are similar to those of opioids: headaches, nausea, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, and agitation. People who experience these side effects require emergency medical services or hospitalization to reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

As such, you should never detox at home. Instead, to avoid further complications, seek to do so under the attentive care of medical professionals. They will make the experience as easy to navigate as possible by helping manage these effects.

 A doctor conducting a drug screening test.

How Xylazine Gets Into Drugs

While Xylazine addiction is often compared to fentanyl or opiate addiction, there’s a serious gap in public knowledge and understanding of how the drug truly works. It remains difficult to pinpoint xylazine fatalities due to the “cutting” process.

This is a method through which drug dealers add fillers to their illicit drug supply to increase the effects at the expense of the user. This has become common practice with fentanyl, as it is often added to increase the effects of illicit opioids.

There’s an immediate issue making this problem even worse: xylazine is a non-controlled substance in Canada. This means that it can be acquired much easier than fentanyl, perhaps explaining the recent spikes in its prevalence.

What is xylazine doing that makes it so hard to track? Officials remain unsure but do know that xylazine slips through routine screenings. This has made it much harder to gather data and research xylazine addiction in more detail.

What Can We Do?

As previously mentioned, xylazine poses a new threat to drug users’ lives as overdoses cannot be reversed by usual intervention medicine.

Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, is typically administered to temporarily treat the effects of illicit drugs by preventing respiratory failure and death. However, it is not an effective treatment for xylazine overdoses.

Nonetheless, naloxone should still be administered as a preventative measure during a suspected overdose given how commonly xylazine is used with opioids.

Freedom From Xylazine Addiction

So, what is xylazine? As you’ve learned, it’s a dangerous new drug with powerful sedative effects being “cut” into popular street drugs. Public officials are still learning more about it as exposure increases and it continues to claim lives.

Freedom From Addiction is here to help those suffering from xylazine addiction. Our state-of-the-art medical detox facility offers various treatment and therapy programs created to address various forms of substance abuse.

Our team of compassionate and experienced experts provides our patients with a wide range of tools that can help them on their journey to recovery. You’re not alone.

Call us now and take that first step towards a better life.


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