Fentanyl is a strong opioid that is used in hospitals to relieve severe pain from cancer or surgery. Over the past 10 years, it has been mixed into more of the illegal drugs that people buy on the street, because it is cheaper and more powerful than heroin or oxycontin. Many people who buy drugs illegally don’t know that there is fentanyl in what they are taking, but it can lead to serious complications for those who are addicted to it. This article looks at the complex nature of withdrawing from fentanyl and explores how withdrawal compares to other opioids. Finally, it examines ibogaine’s potential as aid to those who wish to stop.

Understanding Fentanyl Withdrawal:

Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid. Some report that it is 50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more powerful than morphine. Like heroin, fentanyl is short-acting. Many people who become habituated to using fentanyl have to continue to use it often and in higher doses to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms. This rapid increase in tolerance, and tendency to use higher doses, can contribute to a more difficult withdrawal process.

Its potency makes it useful as a pain relief medication, but also dangerous in many circumstances. Because such small amounts are needed to get strong effects, when fentanyl is included in illegal drugs it can make it more difficult to control the dosage. This can increase the risk of overdose. The CDC reports that fentanyl is a major contributor to both fatal and non-fatal overdose in the US.

Woman with hope for withdrawing from fentanyl

The process of withdrawing from fentanyl is tricky and involves:

  • Strong Physical and Mental Effects: Fentanyl connects with intense potency to the brain’s opioid receptors, causing strong physical and mental dependence. When you stop using it, withdrawal symptoms can include intense cravings, muscle pain, feeling sick and nauseous, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and more.
  • Longer Recovery Period: Fentanyl withdrawal can be tough compared to other opioids because symptoms can come on sooner, and become stronger with prolonged use. Even though it is short acting, its potency also means that withdrawal symptoms can carry out over a longer period than other opioids. The most intense effects can last 5-10 days. 
  • Post-Acute Withdrawals: After the most intense effect passes, many people experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). This can include cravings, depression, difficulty sleeping, and physical discomfort that can last for weeks, months, or even over a year in some cases.
  • Increased Risk: Not everyone who tries to stop using relapses and uses again. But for many people in recovery, relapsing is a part of the process when they make their first attempts to stop. Because of fentanyl’s potency, relapses can carry additional risk of overdose. In addition, overuse of fentanyl can have strong effects on the heart and increase the risk of other health complications.
hands reaching for hope from opioids and addiction withdrawal

Comparing Fentanyl Withdrawal to Other Opioids:

Fentanyl withdrawal can be stronger and last longer than withdrawal from other opioids. In part, this is because of fentanyl’s increased potency, and in part it is because common patterns of fentanyl use can lead to higher dosages. The process can include intense cravings, anxiety and muscle discomfort, but fentanyl’s strength can magnify these experiences, potentially making the process more challenging.

Conventional Approaches to Withdrawing from Fentanyl:

Effectively managing fentanyl withdrawal requires comprehensive strategies that deal with both the physical and psychological parts of addiction. 

Some established methods for withdrawing from fentanyl include:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Methadone and buprenorphine are long-acting opioids that are used to help prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medicines work on opioid receptors, but not as strongly as fentanyl, making it easier for a gradual transition. MAT is often prescribed long-term so that people keep a tolerance to opioids. This can reduce the risk of overdose during a relapse. Many people have found maintenance drug programs like these helpful to stabilize their lives, however some others find it difficult to come off of these medications later.
  • Support Groups: There are numerous types of peer-support groups for those in recovery. This includes 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or even newer programs like Psychedelics in Recovery (PIR). It can also include alternative programs such as SMART Recovery, which has many online Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) tools in addition to online and in-person meetings. These peer groups can be rich with tools, wisdom, and practice support for navigating recovery, both short-term and long-term. Some of them also have support resources for family members.
  • Therapy and Recovery Coaching: There are many specialists who are available to provide one-on-one or group support. Building a trusting therapeutic relationship with a therapist can be an invaluable long-term resource. There are many different styles, and it can be worth finding a therapist who you connect with personally, and who can challenge you in a positive way.
  • Inpatient and Outpatient Programs: Specialized treatment centers have organized programs with medical supervision and counseling. They create a supportive environment while going through withdrawal and recovery. Outpatient programs allow you to stay at home, or near-by the program, while Inpatient programs require you to stay onsite. There are also numerous resources for longer-term sober living, such as Oxford Houses, which provide less therapeutic support, but an environment that is conducive to recovery.

Other Approaches to Fentanyl Withdrawing Worth Considering:

Outside of typical approaches to fentanyl withdrawal, there are some lesser known strategies that help to ease symptoms and reduce tolerance.

  • Ibogaine: Ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic treatment that can help to dramatically reduce withdrawal symptoms from opioids. After treatment, most people experience fewer post-acute withdrawal symptoms like depression and cravings. This can make the transition into early recovery far easier. In the next section, we will unpack some of ibogaine’s benefits for assisting with fentanyl withdrawal.
  • Dopamine Precursors: Opioid drugs work on the dopamine system, which is the part of the nervous system that produces motivation. Many things naturally help us to produce dopamine, such as participating in sports, overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, etc. Having balanced dopamine can contribute to better sleep, higher energy levels, less pain, and improved mood. When we get habituated to opioids our nervous system replaces healthy motivation with the drive for more opioids. When the system doesn’t have opioids, such as during the withdrawal process, it feels depleted. This results in discomfort and cravings. Dopamine precursors are a type of amino acid. They provide the building blocks for the body to produce more dopamine. Rather than flooding the system with dopamine, they make it easier for the body to produce its own dopamine, and contribute to dopamine’s positive effects.
  • Other vitamins and minerals: For people who are habituated to fentanyl or other opioids it is highly beneficial to take B-complex vitamins and magnesium supplements. These can help to reduce some of the withdrawal symptoms. They can be useful tools for those who are trying to lower their tolerance, or during the post-acute withdrawal phase.
  • Vitamin C: There are numerous studies showing that taking high doses of Vitamin C can help to reduce opioid withdrawal. This is shown to have numerous positive effects on symptoms, in part by helping to increase the amount of dopamine in the body. In many studies they use IV forms of Vitamin C, but it can also be taken orally. When taking high doses of oral Vitamin C it can be helpful to take “buffered” or “non-acidic” forms of Vitamin C. This will help to prevent stomach irritation. Vitamin C can be taken throughout the day, and can have a noticeable effect on reducing tolerance, or during the post-acute withdrawal period.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics include foods and supplements that help to increase the amount of healthy bacteria in our gut. Opioids can create many gut problems, and probiotics can help to repair these. The gut is responsible for up to 80% of the dopamine and serotonin that our bodies produce. Amazingly, probiotics can help to reduce withdrawal, improve mood, and numerous other positive effects. They can be very helpful to support a transition to a healthy diet.
  • Diet, Meditation and Exercise: These three things can all help to improve neuroplasticity. “Plasticity” refers to our ability to adapt from our state to another state. Withdrawal is a good example of not being able to adapt easily from one state to another. Ibogaine also helps to dramatically improve neuroplasticity, as we will explain below. But before and after ibogaine, diet, meditation, and exercise, can become the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. Making a small amount of change in these things, such as cutting out sugar, meditating for 5 minutes a day, or doing 20 minutes of cardio, can lead to massive improvements.

The Potential of Ibogaine:

Ibogaine potential for withdrawing from fentanyl

Ibogaine, a natural psychedelic that originally comes from the Tabernanthe iboga plant from Gabon, Africa. It has caught people’s interest as a potential way to deal with opioid withdrawal. 

Ibogaine provides a unique experience that includes:

  • Accelerated Detoxification: Ibogaine dramatically speeds up detoxification from opioids including fentanyl. It provides relief from the intense discomfort and cravings from withdrawal. Many people report that they return to a normal, balanced state much more quickly. Where this can sometimes take months, or a year or more, with ibogaine the process can take days to weeks.
  • Physical Benefits: Ibogaine helps to stimulate neuroplasticity. This is the nervous system’s ability to be able to change from one state to another state. Withdrawal is a good example of difficulty with change, and ibogaine smooths this transition. This effect is a physical one, and ibogaine is also thought to be beneficial in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and other diseases of the nervous system.
  • Therapeutic Benefits: Some people have a long-lasting dream-like experience when they take ibogaine. This can help people navigate thoughts and emotions in new ways. Even though not everyone has this experience, and some people say they “didn’t experience anything,” ibogaine’s effects can lead to a sense of quiet and peace in the mind, or a new way of being present in the body. This can help to navigate some challenges with a renewed perspective.

Ibogaine Caution and Considerations:

Ibogaine therapy can make some things easier, but it can also be a challenging experience. People generally find it far preferable to opioid withdrawal, and a beneficial experience to look back on. But the biggest benefit is in the reduced cravings and depression during the months that follow. People often find a period of ease.

However, there can be complications with ibogaine, particularly when it comes to fentanyl detox:

  • Medical Supervision: Administering ibogaine therapy requires experienced medical supervision due to potential risks to cardiovascular health. It is important to go through screening before you come, and to be monitored for cardiac changes while you are taking ibogaine.
  • Individual Suitability: Before starting ibogaine therapy, it’s important to work with trained medical professionals who are experienced in ibogaine therapy. They will examine any existing health issues and how ibogaine might interact with any medications you’re taking.
  • Extended Stabilization Period: Even though fentanyl is short-acting, it is important to wait until all traces of fentanyl have completely left your system before taking ibogaine. This can mean a longer period of time getting stable, as long as 7 to 10 days. The initial switch onto morphine to stabilize can be uncomfortable in the first few days, but doing this helps to avoid uncomfortable unwanted withdrawal during and after the experience, as well as cardiac complications.
  • Aftercare: Ibogaine can help to dramatically smooth out the transition into early recovery. People describe a window of time afterwards where they feel a sense of ease, and it is important to seek out additional types of recovery support, and to make healthy lifestyle choices within this time. Thinking about your aftercare plan, and being realistic about the physical, mental and social challenges you may face, can help to ensure success.

    Ambio Life Sciences: A Beacon of Hope for Fentanyl Withdrawal:

    In the world of ibogaine therapy, Ambio Life Sciences offers a source of hope for people withdrawing from fentanyl. Our skilled medical and therapeutic teams guide patients through the ibogaine process, keeping them safe and supported. We have served numerous people coming down for fentanyl detox, and have developed improved protocols for stabilization that help to minimize discomfort. Ambio cares about each person that walks through our door, and we adapt our ibogaine therapy protocol to fit their health history and needs.

    Ibogaine has been increasingly trusted for decades as a reliable detox option. Although it is not approved in the United States, it is gradually gaining recognition and support, and we are confident that the protocols that we have developed at Ambio will be available more widely in the future. You don’t have to wait until then. You can learn more about the Ambio and start your own recovery journey today.