Tianeptine is a prescription drug used in parts of the world to treat depression, anxiety, asthma, and irritable bowel disorder. The drug is most commonly sold as Stablon, Tatinol, and Coaxil, where it’s available via prescription. However, it’s increasingly also used as a recreational drug, where it’s crept across the United States under the name “Gas Station Heroin”.
That recreational use also dates back to the 1980s, where Europe saw individuals using the drug to the point of overdose. In 2018, the drug was listed as a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States, following increases in abuse of the prescription drug. Often, the drug is available as a Russian import “Coaxil” or as a powdered “tianeptine salt”, it’s also illegal to buy and to use in the United States, as it’s also not legal for prescription use.
If you or a loved one is using Tianeptine, it’s important that you understand what this drug does and its side effects.
Tianeptine is a tricyclic antidepressant, under the class “atypical” meaning that it doesn’t fall under the categories of serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin agonist and reuptake inhibitors. Instead, the drug functions by agonizing the opioid receptors in the brain, causing an antidepressant and sedative effect. Unlike opioids, it also modulates the glutamate receptors, which improves antidepressant effects.
In Europe, the drug is used as a secondary line of treatment in case SSRIs or SARIs do not work. This means that people who respond poorly to the most common antidepressants can greatly benefit from the drug. That’s especially true as tianeptine works better and has fewer side-effects than other comparable drugs like amitriptyline, imipramine, and fluoxetine, which are common in the U.S. and Europe for the same treatment.
While Tianeptine is a valuable prescription medication, it’s also abused to get high. People take large doses of tianeptine to get similar results to heroin, with euphoria-inducing highs and extreme sedative effects.
That’s often a hazard for users, who may move to tianeptine or gas station heroin because they think it’s safer than heroin. After all, it’s a prescription medication intended for antidepressants. However, the dosage required to get high is considerably higher than the dosage required to reduce symptoms of depression. This means that the effects of tianeptine can be just as bad or even worse than abusing heroin, simply because the drug is used at significantly higher doses than it is intended for.
In addition, while it was true that Tianeptine was not a restricted drug in most of the U.S. until a few years ago, that’s no longer the case. The drug is now classified as a Schedule II drug, and you can be arrested and prosecuted, to the same extent as for using heroin or another illicit opioid.
Tianeptine interacts with the opioid receptors in the brain, meaning its effects are remarkably similar to opioid painkillers. That means most people experience sedation, euphoria, and lethargy when taking the drug in high doses. In addition, the recreational dose is typically up to 1,000 mg – or over 100 times that of the therapeutic dose.
This increases the risk of side effects, with the most common including:
Many people also experience ongoing side-effects like muscle-aches, hypertension, gastric disturbances, blurred vision, or a permanent bitter taste in their mouth. These side effects happen with repeat use even at small doses, so they can be extremely bad with large doses.
Tianeptine is as addictive as most other drugs that interact with the opioid receptors. This means that you will experience dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. It also means that you may end up with seeking behavior. However, it’s important to note that many people who start using Tianeptine are already addicted to another drug. Many move to the antidepressant under the assumption that it’s safer than opioids. Therefore, you may already have symptoms of addiction, making it harder to track whether the disorder originated with Tianeptine or another drug.
It’s possible that Tianeptine is safer than heroin. However, it depends on where you’re getting the drug. For example, if you’re comparing Tianeptine to prescription painkillers, the answer is “probably not”. In fact, the prescription painkiller is probably safer, because there are known and commonly used anti-overdose agents in most hospitals, you can get naloxone to stop an overdose for free in most states, and you can be treated for opioid withdrawal without a long and dangerous period.
That’s not true for Tianeptine, which can have significant dangerous during the withdrawal period. In addition, there are no overdose reversal drugs. In many cases, it’s not even common enough in the United States that if you were to walk into the hospital overdosing on Tianeptine, the hospital would know what to do or what you were overdosing on. Instead, you’d likely have your stomach pumped and you’d be put on an IV to thin whatever is in your blood – and that’s it.
On the other hand, if you’re comparing gas station heroin to street heroin made illicitly, the Tianeptine is almost always safer. That’s because most Tianeptine on the street is still prescription drugs made legally in Russia and imported to the United States. This means the dosage is the same, there are no dangerous filler ingredients, and you know what you’re taking. That won’t be true if you buy illicit heroin, which has likely been made in a street lab with no regulation.
However, it’s never safe to take Tianeptine. The drug is dependence inducing, takes weeks to withdraw from, and withdrawal symptoms like seizures can be significantly dangerous. This means it’s difficult for you to get off Tianeptine without significant medical attention.
If you or a loved one is using an illicit drug like Tianeptine, it’s never safe. It’s dangerous for your health, mental health, your career, school, and your family. And, it’s just as hard on your body and your mind as a regular opioid. This means you’ll have a longer detox period and then the same therapy and mental health treatment to recover from Tianeptine abuse as from an opioid. If you’re struggling, reaching out and moving into that detox and therapy can help you to get off the drug, to recover from the mental and physical side-effects, and to learn coping mechanisms so you can live without using drugs.
Asana Recovery is located in Orange County, California. and offers detox, residential, and outpatient addiction treatment services in our modern and comfortable addiction treatment facilities. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.