Whether you’re required to do a drug screening at work or want to resume an opioid-free life, chances are you’ve asked yourself, “How long does tramadol stay in your system after you take it?”
The truth is that many factors determine how long tramadol stays in your system and how long it is detectable in drug tests.
So, in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tramadol and its effects on your body, from what this drug is to how to get it out of your system.
What is Tramadol?
Tramadol, which also goes by the brand names Ultram®, ConZip®, and others, is a synthetic opioid commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain.
Tramadol usually comes in the following forms:
- Oral tablet
- Extended-release tablet
- Extended-release capsule
As a fully synthetic opioid, tramadol is an analog to codeine, a natural opioid. Unlike codeine, which is derived from the poppy plant, tramadol is made in labs by combining synthetic opioid medication with monoamine reuptake inhibitors (MRI).
Initially, tramadol was created as a safer alternative to other prescription opioids. Nonetheless, it can still be habit-forming. Taking tramadol, and especially misusing it, can result in physical dependence and opioid use disorder (OUD).
Given that the pain-relieving effects of tramadol are about one-tenth to one-sixth as strong as those of morphine, tramadol is generally less potent than many other opioids. This makes it less effective in treating chronic and long-term pain, which is why tramadol is often prescribed alongside other pain medications.
How Does Tramadol Work?
Tramadol works similarly to other opioid medications, such as oxycodone, in that it binds to the brain’s opioid receptors to block pain.
However, what makes tramadol unique is that, unlike most opioids, it also contains monoamine reuptake inhibitors. These inhibitors obstruct the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine and suppress the depressant effects of opioids. Besides that, tramadol can also induce euphoria by triggering the brain to release endorphins.
Depending on the specific type of medication used, tramadol usually starts to work within about an hour after taking it. Its pain-relieving effects usually peak within 2 to 4 hours. Immediate-release tramadol provides pain relief for up to 6 hours, whereas extended-release tramadol works for about 12–24 hours.
Although tramadol was intended to be a safer alternative to other opioids, it still poses a risk to anyone taking it. Besides addiction, tramadol can induce unpleasant and potentially life-threatening side effects, including:
- Flushed skin
- Itchy skin
- Dry mouth
How Long Does Tramadol Stay in Your System?
Various drug tests, including hair and urine, can be used to detect tramadol in your body. The time period within which tramadol can be found in your system depends on the type of drug test administered, among other factors.
Below you will find timeframes for how long, on average, tramadol can be detected by different drug tests.
Tramadol in Saliva
Saliva tests involve taking an oral swab and sending it to the lab to detect the presence of tramadol in the system. As a general rule, these tests have a rather short detection window. In most cases, saliva tests can detect tramadol in your system for up to 2 days after the last dose.
Tramadol in Urine
If you have to take a urine drug test and wonder how long tramadol stays in your system, the short answer is that it can be detected in urine for up to 4 days after the last dose. However, there are some exceptions, as extended-release tramadol can be detected in a urine drug test for longer.
It’s also important to note that most urine drug tests will indicate that opioids are present in your system rather than detecting tramadol specifically.
Tramadol in Blood
Aside from research, blood tests are rarely conducted to detect tramadol since it doesn’t stay in the blood for long.
Generally speaking, a blood test can come out positive if you’ve taken tramadol within 24 hours, but if you’re using extended-release tramadol, you might test positive for a longer time.
Tramadol in Hair
Hair tests can also be used to detect tramadol in the system, as they are highly accurate and have the longest detection window. These tests involve sending hair follicles to a lab, where they are tested for the presence of tramadol.
Hair testing is often used to determine chronic drug use. Due to hair growth rate, opiates can’t be detected until about a week after use.
Depending on the circumstances, a hair test can detect tramadol in your system for up to 90 days after the last use and even longer.
How long tramadol stays in your system is directly related to the half-life of tramadol, which is the average amount of time it takes to eliminate half of the dose of tramadol from your body.
The half-life of a single dose of tramadol is 6.3 hours, whereas that of multiple doses is estimated to be 7 hours. This means that once you take a dose of tramadol, half of it will still be present in your system after 6–7 hours.
Since it takes about five half-lives for drugs to be cleared out of your system, tramadol may still be found in your body long after you’ve taken your last dose. On average, tramadol can stay in your body for up to 35 hours after your last use.
Factors That Determine How Long Tramadol Stays in Your System
How long tramadol stays in your system depends not only on the half-life of tramadol but also on several other factors, including:
- Metabolism. The rate at which your body breaks down and eliminates tramadol depends on your metabolism. It will take longer for people with a slow metabolism to flush out tramadol from their bodies than for those with a fast metabolism. Because of this, diet, genetics, and activity level also determine how long tramadol stays in your system.
- Age. Since metabolism usually slows down with age, it may take longer for older people to process tramadol from their systems, especially if they have kidney or liver problems.
- Sex. Due to biological differences between men and women, tramadol tends to stay longer in women’s bodies compared to those of men.
- Liver and kidney health. Liver enzymes are responsible for breaking down tramadol, which is also processed by the kidneys before being eliminated from the body. Because of this, people with impaired liver or kidney functioning will need more time to flush out tramadol than those who have healthy organs.
- The amount of tramadol you have consumed. How long tramadol stays in your system is directly correlated with how much tramadol you’ve taken, how frequently, and for how long. If you’re a long-term user of tramadol, it might remain in your system and be traceable for a longer time compared to short-term users.
- Drug use. If you use tramadol in addition to other drugs, including opioids, your body will process it more slowly compared to people who only use tramadol.
When is Tramadol Used?
As mentioned above, tramadol is typically prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, such as that after surgeries, injuries, and similar.
While it can be used to alleviate both short-term and long-term pain, it is generally not recommended for chronic pain management due to a heightened risk of side effects and addiction. In most cases, it should only be used when non-opioid pain medication isn’t effective.
Still, many physicians prescribe tramadol more liberally than other opioid medications, perhaps because of its reputation as a “safer” medication. Tramadol was the 35th most prescribed medication in the United States in 2020, when nearly 17.5 million tramadol prescriptions were issued to over 4.8 million Americans.
Dangers of Using Tramadol
Although tramadol was designed to be a safer, less addictive alternative to opioid medication, today, it’s believed to be no less dangerous than other opioids.
Since tramadol acts on opioid receptors to alleviate pain, it works similarly to other types of opioid painkillers. Anyone taking tramadol can develop tolerance to it, as it facilitates the production of opioid receptors. This can lead to tramadol misuse (e.g., taking more medication than prescribed), addiction, and overdose, although it is regarded as a relatively weak opioid.
In 2021, just above 16% of people over the age of 12 who were misusing prescription medication misused tramadol products. This made it the fourth-most commonly misused prescription painkiller that year. Only hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine had higher misuse rates than tramadol.
How to Get Tramadol Out of Your System
Given that tramadol is addictive, you shouldn’t try to detox from it on your own. Even if you aren’t dependent on or addicted to tramadol, you shouldn’t stop taking it without first consulting your doctor.
Abruptly quitting tramadol can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, nausea, and vomiting. Besides being uncomfortable, some of these symptoms can be life-threatening.
Since it usually takes a week for tramadol withdrawal symptoms to improve, people who quit the drug without medical care are at an elevated risk of relapse and overdose.
That being said, you’re probably wondering how to get tramadol out of your system safely and effectively, and the key is to do it under medical supervision. This way, you can get the medical and emotional support you need to get tramadol out of your system and minimize the likelihood of experiencing complications, side effects, and relapse.
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Hopefully, now you have a better idea of how long tramadol stays in your system and which factors determine that.
Before you go, let’s summarize the key points covered in this article:
- Tramadol is a synthetic opioid primarily used to relieve short-term moderate to severe pain.
- In addition to binding to opioid receptors to alleviate pain, tramadol is unique in that it also reduces the depressant effects of opioids.
- Tramadol’s detection window is shortest in blood tests (up to 24 hours) and longest in hair follicle tests (up to 90 days).
- Sex, age, tramadol consumption, and other drug use are among the key factors that determine how long tramadol stays in your system.
- Although tramadol was intended to be safer than other opioids, it is still addictive, which is why you shouldn’t stop taking it without medical supervision.