What is Carfentanil: The Elephant Tranquilizer That’s 100x Stronger Than Fentanyl

Last Updated: Apr 6th 2021

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

What is Carfentanil: The Elephant Tranquilizer That’s 100x Stronger Than Fentanyl

Carfentanil is relatively unfamiliar, and most people don’t realize this synthetic drug, devised for use by veterinarians, is currently the most dangerous opioid drug known to man.  However, carfentanil and fentanyl are largely responsible for a significant spike in fatal overdoses across the United States. 

The Rand Corporation estimates synthetic opioids like carfentanil and fentanyl are responsible for roughly two-thirds of opioid-related deaths, and calls the  situation“a mass poisoning.” The most frightening thing is that most victims had no idea they were being poisoned.

What is Carfentanil?

Like fentanyl, carfentanil is a powerful synthetic drug manufactured in a laboratory.  Both work much like heroin or morphine, and they have the same effect on the brain. It’s essential to note that while fentanyl is potent and deadly, its strength is dwarfed compared to carfentanil.

Unfortunately, so-called chemists in illegal laboratories, often based in China, have discovered that it costs very little to manufacture carfentanil and fentanyl. Mexican drug cartels are also responsible for much of the synthetic opioids coming into the United States, often in phony pills that mimic legitimate prescription meds.

Unscrupulous dealers frequently mix carfentanil and fentanyl with other drugs, which increases their profits, but substantially increases the risk of fatal overdose. All too often, even experienced drug users have no idea the heroin, cocaine, or meth they’re buying is laced with a deadly drug. 

Some people, however, seek out a combination of carfentanil mixed with fentanyl, cocaine, and other drugs. This cocktail is appropriately known as “grey death.”

Carfentanil Vs. Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a beneficial drug when used correctly. Physicians use it after surgery or when pain from cancer is unmanageable with other, less potent drugs. 

Carfentanil, on the other hand, is a tranquilizer for large animals, and even a tiny dose is strong enough to sedate an elephant or immobilize bison, moose, or elk. Otherwise, there are no accepted medical uses for carfentanil, and it isn’t intended for use on humans under any circumstances. 

To put things in perspective, consider that morphine is a powerful and effective painkiller. However, fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. In other words, carfentanil is a whopping 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a carfentanil lethal dose is so small, it’s difficult to imagine. About 7 ounces (2 mg.) is enough to sedate an elephant, or to kill about 50 human beings. Even a tiny amount absorbed through the skin can kill you, and presents a real danger to police and emergency responders who accidentally come in contact with it. 

Carfentanil and fentanyl are available in various forms, including powder, liquid, pills, sprays, blotter paper, and skin patches. On the street, the drugs are known by names such as Serial Killer, TNT, or Drop Dead.

Signs of Carfentanil Addiction and Side Effects

Addiction to carfentanil alone is rare because users generally overdose long before dependence has time to develop. However, addiction can develop quickly when carfentanil is mixed with heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, or other substances. 

Users of carfentanil may experience unpleasant and dangerous side effects much like any other opioid drug, including:

  • Sleepiness and lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Itching
  • Clammy skin
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Pinpoint pupils

Carfentanil Treatment

Treatment for carfentanil abuse is challenging because most people use it combined with other drugs, often unknowingly. Using more than one drug, either together or separately, is known as polydrug use.  

Carfentanil treatment usually includes education, individual and group therapy, family counseling, relapse prevention program, and sometimes participation in a 12-Step group. Addiction treatment also involves counseling to address depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that often accompany addiction to opioid drugs. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA), most addicted people require at least 90 days of treatment to reduce or stop their drug use. Thirty days is rarely enough, and extended treatment offers the best chances for long-term recovery. Like any other chronic illness, additional treatment may be needed if a relapse occurs. 

Although treatment may be provided on an outpatient basis, addiction professionals generally recommend inpatient treatment or rehab for severe addiction. Once you complete treatment, you may transition to outpatient treatment. A sober living home may help you make the switch from the treatment environment to a regular life free of substance abuse and addiction. 

Carfentanil Withdrawal and Detox

Carfentanil detox is the first step on the road to recovery, since treatment is unlikely to be effective if you are still under the influence of opioid drugs. Cartenafil withdrawal can occur during the detox period, but medications will help with symptoms while the drug leaves your body.

Withdrawal may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Teary eyes
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches

Signs of Overdose

Carfentanil produces an Intense high, but it also depresses breathing and slows the heart to dangerous levels within moments. If you think a person is overdosing, call 911 immediately, then perform CPR until emergency responders arrive. If you carry naloxone, this is the time to use it; however, keep in mind that overdose on fentanyl or carfentanil is likely to require at least two doses. 

If somebody you love uses any opioid drug, you should keep naloxone available at all times, and you should know how to use it. Administering naloxone isn’t difficult, and it can reverse an overdose if used quickly enough.

Signs of overdose include:

  • Blue lips, skin, and fingernails
  • Stiff (or limp) body
  • Clammy, pale or bluish skin
  • Slow, erratic, or stopped pulse
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Choking or gurgling sounds (death rattle)

Get Your Life Back, Starting Today

If you’re battling an addiction to carfentanil, fentanyl, or other opioids, you aren’t alone. At 1st Step, we can help you regain control of your life and give the boot to substance abuse and addiction. Don’t wait; give us a call at 855-425-4846, or contact us online

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSWBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.