America’s War on Drugs has not only pitted law enforcement and healthcare against drug dealers and organized crime. The other players that are seldom talked about are the shadowy figures behind the oddball new drugs like gas station heroin, which often exist in legal ‘gray areas’. 

This Maryland Addiction Recovery Center article will bring you up to speed on gas station heroin and other similar substances. 

What Is Gas Station Heroin?

Gas station heroin is the nickname given to one of the newest drugs of abuse which exploits legal gray areas to avoid prohibition. The active ingredient in gas station heroin is a drug called tianeptine. Tianeptine is categorized as an unconventional tricyclic antidepressant medication. It does not have FDA approval and likely never will. 

Owing to its alarming side effects, many countries have prohibited the use of tianeptine as a prescribed drug. Most of these countries also prohibit its use or possession for any other reason, including recreational use, due to its dangerous side effects. It’s also known by various street or brand names such as TD Red, Tianna Red, Neptune’s Fix Elixir, ZaZa, and Pegasus.

Gas station heroin is:

  • An unapproved antidepressant medication that acts as an opioid agonist.
  • Deliberately created to exploit legal loopholes designed to stop dangerous intoxicants.
  • Sold in many gas stations and convenience stores under a variety of brand names. 
  • Banned or severely restricted in at least 9 U.S. states and counting.

The Pharmacology of Gas Station Heroin

Gas station heroin isn’t an opioid in the conventional sense, but it does act on the brain’s reward pathways and opioid receptors. This allows it to create very similar effects to a conventional opioid, much the way kratom does. 

Originally developed as an unconventional tricyclic antidepressant medicine, it is believed to have some potential medical use. However, Johnson & Johnson chose not to pursue FDA approval due to the drug’s unwanted side effects and the fact that they suspected its profitability wouldn’t justify the expense of drug trials.

Effects of gas station heroin include:

  • Slowed/stopped breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Coma 
  • Death

How Are These Gas Station Drugs Legal?

Because it’s not technically an opioid, tianeptine exists in a sort of “legal gray area” that allows disreputable companies to manufacture it and sell it in retail stores. Unfortunately, it often takes time for state (and especially federal) laws to catch up with substances like this. The people who make them realize this and exploit that fact in a cash grab to make as much profit as possible before the drug is pushed out of the legitimate retail market and forced into the black market economy. 

The loopholes they use are usually sold by include being labeled as “nutritional supplements” or as “not for human consumption”, as in the case of synthetic THC/spice sold as “incense”. Fortunately, state governments have become more responsive to these threats as they have become more common and are shortening the length of time between their discovery and when they are banned by law and removed from the market. 

The federal government, including the DEA, is also more aware and a bit more effective at countering the threat than they used to be, but the purveyors of these poisons are crafty. Just as soon as one is banned, you can be sure they are working on another. 

Some of the ways gas station drugs skirt the law include:

  • Being labeled as “adulterated nutritional supplements”
  • Being labeled as “not for human consumption 
  • Changing formulas on the molecular level just enough to remain legal. 

Other Drugs Similar to Gas Station Heroin

A range of other substances over the years have used similar legal loopholes to reach consumers. Synthetic cathinone, a synthesized, highly potent form of the active ingredient in the Middle Eastern herb khat, appeared on the market as “bath salts” or “monkey dust” for a time until state and federal authorities finally shut it down, forcing it into the black market. 

Synthetic THC mixtures sprayed on herbal smoking mixtures sold as “spice” or incense. One early example was GHB, which was sold as a bodybuilding supplement in the beginning, but it didn’t take long before people discovered its intoxicant properties, which were never meant to be a secret. GHB soon became a notorious ‘date rape’ drug due to its insidious combination of powerful sedation and memory loss. 

A Path To Recovery in Maryland

Our Baltimore addiction treatment program features specialized care to help you or your loved one conquer addiction for good. The emphasis we place on individualized treatment programming is just one of many factors that make Maryland Addiction Recovery Center (MARC) unique. We believe treatment should be designed to fit each individual for the best results. 

Maryland Addiction Recovery Center (MARC) is proud to be a part of the solution to addiction in Baltimore. If you or someone you love is challenged by a substance use disorder, MARC can help. Please give us a call today at (866) 929-2159