Learn / What Is Gas Station Heroin (Tianeptine)?

What Is Gas Station Heroin (Tianeptine)?

Grace Ogren
 July 25th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Tianeptine causes effects similar to heroin.
  • Sellers falsely market tianeptine as a safe supplement.
  • Not knowing what it really does can cause overdoses and fatal cross-blending.

Gas station heroin, or tianeptine, acts like an opioid. It closely mimics heroin and often sells in gas stations and online stores, earning it the name “gas station heroin.” And like opioids, tianeptine can be highly addictive. 

Some states have made tianeptine illegal. Other states heed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation1, which states “…it is an unsafe food additive, and dietary supplements containing tianeptine are adulterated under the FD&C Act.” As such, tianeptine sellers can’t say it’s meant for consumption—or really anything else but “laboratory research.” 

But that doesn’t make gas station heroin any less addictive or any harder to get. To help you or your loved one recover, your care team might suggest going to rehab for drug addiction

Understanding Gas Station Heroin

Gas station heroin goes by several street names: ZaZa, Tianna, Pegasus, and TD Red. Tianeptine was created and patented as an antidepressant2 and still has that function in some European, Asian, and Latin American countries. But in the U.S., some use tianeptine as a pseudo-opioid. Because it’s not a controlled substance across the whole U.S. (yet), the legality of tianeptine proves tempting. 

Tianeptine acts like an opioid2 because it’s also a mu-opioid receptor agonist, which means it causes an influx of dopamine along your brain’s pleasure circuit. That’s why it’s effects can be compared to heroin. Tianeptine also causes opioid-like withdrawal symptoms—some say it’s even worse3.   

Despite being marketed as a demure dietary supplement, a nootropic, or a novel way to treat depression, tianeptine is far from safe. Smaller doses may prove harmless or even beneficial for non-U.S. patients taking it as prescribed. But, like heroin, tianeptine use could easily spiral into a costly addiction. 

What Are the Dangers of Gas Station Heroin?

Unknown Risks and Consequences

One of the dangers of tianeptine comes from the public’s general lack of how it’s used4 and the resulting effects. For example, gas station heroin coagulates when it gets wet3. If you try to inject it, as you would heroin, the coagulation could cause vein damage. Snorting it creates the same problems, since your nose and nasal cavity are wet, too. 

But many don’t know that. They might also assume that snorting or injecting tianeptine causes a “better” high3 than ingesting it, like heroin. In reality, that’s not true. Snorting tianeptine also hurts quite bad.  

Many also don’t know tianeptine can be addictive and have painful withdrawal symptoms. That’s understandable, since many sellers present tianeptine as a nootropic (cognitive enhancer) or as an innocent dietary supplement. Though more and more have realized the true nature of tianeptine, including the states fighting to illegalize it, it’s been too little too late for some.  

Overdose, Tolerance, and Withdrawals

Taking a seemingly safe drug with unknown effects could lead to overdoses, which have been fatal. You might not know how much is safe, how often you can take it, and what doesn’t pair well with tianeptine. These factors all increase your chance of an overdose. 

Even within “safe” doses, your tolerance will build. As time goes on, you may need to take higher and higher doses to feel the same positive effects. The more you take, the more likely an overdose becomes. And the higher and riskier your dose goes, the worse your withdrawals could feel4.    

Withdrawing from tianeptine feels like withdrawing from opioids, or worse. Tianeptine has a short half-life4, meaning withdrawal symptoms can set in fast. Symptoms can also last up to 2 weeks3. These symptoms include mental and physical effects4, like

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach pain and digestive issues
  • Vomiting 
  • Suicidal thoughts

In a recent localized study, over half the calls to poison control centers for tianeptine withdrawals resulted in medical care5. Tianeptine does, thankfully, respond to naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. If you or someone you know needs help because of an overdose, call 911 or talk to poison control

Easy Access

As the nickname “gas station heroin” suggests, you can find tianeptine in some gas stations, smoke shops, and online websites. It’s highly accessible and can be all-too-easy to get a hold of (in bulk or by the bottle). But its accessibility doesn’t mean it’s safe. Here’s just a few of the reasons why:

  • 1. Unregulated Quality: The FDA doesn’t regulate gas station drugs, meaning there’s no guarantee of the quality or purity of the product. This could lead to serious health risks since the product could contain dangerous contaminants or chemicals.
  • 2. Unknown Ingredients: Many gas station drugs contain ingredients that aren’t labeled or disclosed to the consumer. This could lead to serious health risks if you’re unaware of the active ingredients in the product.
  • 3. Dosing Instructions: Gas station drugs often rarely include dosing instructions, which can lead to overdosing or underdosing, both of which can be dangerous.
  • 4. Contamination: Gas station drugs may have contaminants like bacteria, fungi, and others, which can lead to serious health risks.
  • 5. Addiction Risk: Gas station drugs can be highly addictive, leading to a dependence on the substance. This can lead to serious health risks, like withdrawal symptoms.

Despite these challenges, you do have recovery resources to find the healing you need.

Explore Heroin Treatment Centers

Getting Help for Drug Addiction

Tianeptine could reel you in with its legality, easy access, and promises of newfound wellbeing. But you can get out of its grip. 

Many treatments for drug addiction use a combination of therapy and medications. Your doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines to ease your detox6 symptoms. Fluids and vitamins7 can help, too. 

After detoxing, you’ll begin to navigate the trauma, circumstance, or untrue thought(s) that may have led to using tianeptine. Therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), and ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) can change your perspective and offer new coping tools for your future. Your therapist will likely introduce you to these therapies in group and individual settings. 

During or after rehab, you can also start Narcotics Anonymous (NA). As a 12-Step peer group, NA connects you to others in recovery and helps keep you accountable. Meetings take place worldwide.
View our list of drug addiction rehabs to see photos, reviews, insurance information, and more.

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