What is Gas Station Heroin? Tianeptine Side Effects and Dangers

What is Gas Station Heroin Tianeptine Side Effects and Dangers

In recent years, an alarming trend has emerged involving the sale of a substance known as “gas station heroin.” This substance is not actually heroin, but rather a powerful and potentially dangerous drug called tianeptine. It is sometimes sold in gas stations and marketed as a dietary supplement that helps with energy and focus.

Tianeptine is an atypical antidepressant that is approved for medical use in some countries but is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the increasing sales of tianeptine in gas stations and online platforms have raised concerns among addiction experts and healthcare professionals about the drug’s abuse potential, side effects, and overall safety.

What is Tianeptine?

Tianeptine was initially developed in the 1960s and is primarily prescribed as an antidepressant in certain European and Asian countries. It is not used in the United States because it is considered outdated, and doctors instead rely on more modern, less addictive medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In fact, tianeptine was never approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Tianeptine is believed to work through various mechanisms, including its effects on glutamate receptors and the reuptake of serotonin. Unlike traditional antidepressants, tianeptine has a non-traditional pharmacological profile. It can be both a stimulant and a depressant, depending on the dosage and individual response.

It’s important to note that tianeptine doesn’t improve mood in the same way other antidepressants do. It enhances mood by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and body in the same way heroin, oxycodone, and other narcotics do. As a result, tianeptine can be extremely addictive when it is abused.

Where Did the Term “Gas Station Heroin” Come From?

The term “gas station heroin” has gained traction due to the alarming rise in tianeptine’s availability at gas stations, convenience stores, and online marketplaces. Tianeptine produces effects that are similar to opioids like heroin, but they are extremely accessible. These products are often marketed as dietary supplements or nootropics, and they may be sold under various brand names, including:

  • ZaZa
  • ZaZa Red
  • Tianna
  • Nootropic
  • Pegasus
  • TD Red

The easy accessibility of tianeptine-containing products has led to concerns that they are being used for non-medical purposes, including recreational use and self-medication. Additionally, because tianeptine products are sold as supplements they are not regulated by the FDA or any other legislative body. As a result, they can vary in potency and may contain any number of additives or impurities.

Understanding the Dangers of Tianeptine Abuse

Tianeptine’s abuse potential lies in its ability to act as either a stimulant or a depressant. At lower doses, it can induce euphoria, energy, and heightened focus – effects that may be appealing to individuals seeking a quick mood boost. In high doses, tianeptine can produce effects similar to opioids, such as euphoria, pain relief, relaxation, and sedation. However, these effects are short-lived, and tianeptine’s abuse can quickly lead to tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms.

Although gas station heroin isn’t as potent as real heroin, its effects are the same, and the risks are, too. Long-term use can lead to mental and behavioral health issues, cognitive problems, constipation, and poor overall health. Reports have also found tianeptine to have adverse effects on respiratory, neurological, and gastrointestinal systems.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Tianeptine Abuse

While tianeptine has legitimate medical uses, its misuse can have serious health consequences.

Some of the potential side effects of tianeptine abuse include:

  • Addiction and dependence – Tianeptine has been associated with the development of physical and psychological dependence. Abruptly stopping the drug after periods of regular use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which may include anxiety, depression, irritability, and flu-like symptoms. Tianeptine withdrawal can resemble opioid withdrawal.
  • Cardiovascular effects – High doses of tianeptine can have negative impacts on the cardiovascular system. Users may experience elevated heart rates, palpitations, and hypertension, putting them at risk of heart-related complications.
  • Cognitive impairment – While tianeptine is promoted as a mood enhancer, misuse can lead to cognitive impairment and memory problems, especially when used at higher doses.
  • Gastrointestinal distress – Tianeptine abuse has been linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Respiratory problems – In extreme cases, tianeptine abuse can lead to respiratory depression, a potentially life-threatening condition where breathing becomes dangerously slow and shallow.

Some States are Taking Measures to Regulate Gas Station Heroin

Although tianeptine is not currently classified as a controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to its potential for abuse and associated risks, some states have taken independent measures to regulate or ban the sale of products containing the substance.

As of June 2023, tianeptine was banned in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee

The FDA also warns that tianeptine does not meet the statutory definition of a dietary ingredient and is an unsafe food additive. They state, “Consumers may inadvertently find themselves addicted to tianeptine and should avoid all products containing tianeptine, especially those claiming to treat opioid use disorder (OUD).”

Treatment for Tianeptine Abuse and Addiction

If you are struggling with tianeptine abuse or addiction, it’s important to consider seeking professional help. Addiction treatment programs, therapy, and medical supervision are essential for addressing the physical and psychological aspects of dependence. Treatment for tianeptine abuse may include:

  • Medically-supervised detox
  • Residential treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Relapse prevention
  • Support groups
  • Aftercare support

To learn more about substance abuse treatment or to discuss your treatment options with an addiction specialist, please contact Moving Mountains Recovery today.


  1. National Library of Medicine: Tianeptine: a review of its use in depressive disorders, Retrieve August 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11463130/
  2. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Tianeptine, Retrieved August 2023 from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/tianeptine.pdf
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Tianeptine in Dietary Supplements, Retrieved August 2023 from https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplement-ingredient-directory/tianeptine-dietary-supplements
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