Learn about the effects and risks of xylazine.
Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope,” is a powerful animal tranquilizer. Human use of this veterinary medicine is extremely dangerous and can be deadly.
People who use xylazine become extremely lethargic or unconscious. People in this state are at greater risk of being robbed or assaulted. Xylazine use can also cause severe skin wounds and lead to death by overdose.
Use naloxone to reverse an overdose, test substances with xylazine test strips, and seek out a medical professional for help with caring for xylazine wounds and treating substance dependence.
Xylazine, also called “tranq” or “tranq dope,” is a powerful animal tranquilizer. Though it is not intended for humans, people misuse xylazine in combination with fentanyl and other drugs. And illicit drugs are increasingly being laced with xylazine, leading people to take it unknowingly. Xylazine use is extremely dangerous and can be deadly.
If you take xylazine, know that recovery is possible.
Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant that has long been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals. Veterinarians performing surgery on horses, deer, or other large animals administer the drug to induce sleep or control pain.
Xylazine is not safe for human use in any circumstances. However, people have begun to use the drug either alone or in combination with other drugs, especially with the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl. They may use xylazine to get high or make the high from fentanyl or another drug last longer.
Illicit xylazine is often a white or brown powder, which can be mixed into other powders or pressed into pills. People take xylazine by injecting, snorting, smoking, or swallowing it.
In some cases, people take xylazine without knowing it. That’s because dealers are lacing other illicit drugs with xylazine, as it is cheap, addictive, and hard to identify.
Xylazine use is contributing to a spike in overdose deaths. In July 2023, the White House issued an “emerging threat” response plan to deal with the harms of xylazine, and especially xylazine combined with fentanyl.
After people take xylazine, they quickly enter a trancelike state or a deep sleep that can last between 30 minutes and several hours. Xylazine is sometimes called the “zombie drug” because of these effects.
Side effects may include:
Suffocation. Heavy sedation from xylazine may cause suffocation or restricted breathing.
Experiencing violence. People are at risk of being robbed or assaulted while sedated.
Body sores and xylazine wounds. Lying in one place for a long time while sedated may cause body sores. Additionally, people who use xylazine can develop severe skin wounds that are easily infected — regardless of whether the drug is injected, snorted, smoked, or swallowed. This could be due to xylazine’s restriction of blood flow to the skin. Limbs with untreated wounds (or “xylazine necrosis”) may need to be amputated.
Overdose. People who use xylazine alone, and especially those who use it with other drugs, are at risk of injury or death by overdose. Taking fentanyl mixed with xylazine can cause profound sedation and suppressed breathing, which can be fatal. Still, experts believe these fentanyl-xylazine deaths are primarily caused by fentanyl, which is why they recommend administering naloxone to anyone experiencing an overdose. Fentanyl and xylazine are even more likely to cause a fatal overdose when taken with other drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and benzodiazepines.
Dependence. A “dual” dependence on xylazine and fentanyl appears to cause people to experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop use. Experts are exploring the best remedies to treat xylazine-related withdrawal symptoms. However, the pain of withdrawal from opioids like fentanyl can be treated with medication for opioid use disorder.
Xylazine is not an opioid, but it is often mixed with opioids, especially fentanyl, which drives most overdoses. Naloxone, known by brand names like Narcan and RiVive, is an over-the-counter medicine that can stop an opioid overdose and save a life.
If you suspect someone is experiencing a drug overdose:
Learn about opioid overdose prevention.
Public health experts are still studying the use of xylazine in humans, including how to treat its effects. Ways to reduce your risk include the following:
Find more harm reduction methods.
Recovery from substance misuse and dependence is a personal journey, and there’s no single solution that works for everyone.
Start by finding a trained health care professional to conduct a medical needs assessment. They can work with you to create a recovery plan, care for wounds, and recommend treatment, therapies, and support groups to promote your recovery.
Content reviewed by Jasleen Salwan, M.D., MPH, FASAM, August 2023.
ICYMI: In Continued Response to Overdose Epidemic, the White House Releases National Response Plan To Address the Emerging Threat of Fentanyl Combined With Xylazine, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, July 11, 2023