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Gas Station Heroin


Words and Photos by Amiyah Golden 


Half-full Chipotle Bowls.

A Non-Existent Work-Life Balance.

Price Gouging.

Declining Mental Health. 

Obligatory Duties. 

Political Affairs. 


It’s all too much!  


Granted, life has always involved challenges, but present-day trials and tribulations have seemed to morph into an even more complicated existence.


This ongoing exasperation has plenty of people turning to their vices for relief, whether it’s alcohol consumption, binging reality television or using their fingers to complain and argue on X (aka the platform formerly known as Twitter). Others, however, opt for healthier alternatives like fitness to transfer their stress elsewhere, but even this can turn grim with potential supplement abuse or development of an eating disorder. 


While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these various coping mechanisms, they all have risk potential. Alcohol is one of the more popular ways to “escape” by often being disguised as an efficacious answer to the stressors of life and a part of the culture. The casualness of alcohol consumption has led to societal dismissal of plausible peril that’s akin to misuse producing effects such as harm (to yourself or others), poisoning, jail time, and addiction. Abstemiousness is not often considered until it’s too late. On the other hand, the declaration of sobriety by influencers and celebrities has raised awareness of “challenges” such as Dry January or 75 Hard which completely eliminate alcohol, paving the way for a burgeoning movement being dubbed as sober curious and creating a stir among consumers as well as alcohol companies. And the emergence of more alcohol-free bars, drinks and brands has made the transition easier (or so we thought…)


Major household names in the world of booze including White Claw, Heineken, Guinness and Gordon’s have entered the non-alcoholic space with alternatives to their best-sellers and compete with emerging brands such as Kin Euphorics, Betty Buzz and Hiyo who market themselves as clean brands with holistic ingredients that don’t include alcohol but adaptogens — plants or mushrooms that house a variety of benefits such as hormone balancing, anxiety relief, mood boosting and immune strengthening. 


While adaptogens have been around since ancient times and many studies have been done on their use and benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to regulate them. This doesn’t necessarily disprove their benefits (the FDA still approves Red Dye 40 if that tells you anything), but it doesn’t ensure supervision of the products containing them either.


Some doctors have expressed worry about the products, as well as the lengths companies may continue to sell these “healthier” versions of adult beverages without the use of alcohol. A “Time” article reported that a U.K.-based company is planning to produce a synthetic alcohol molecule that will mimic beer, champagne and even rum. 


“There’s always the promise of some new molecule that’s going to do exactly what the old molecule did but not have the harmful effects. Every single time, that has not panned out,” Dr. Anna Lembke, medical director at Stanford University School of Medicine, commented in the article.


Author of the article Jamie Ducharme agreed. “Heroin was intended to be a safer form of morphine. E-cigarettes were pitched as a less dangerous way to smoke. Neither has worked out as planned.” 


Possible codependency and relapse issues — especially for those battling addiction — have been voiced. The use of particular adaptogens has propagated solicitude on its latent dangers. 


One such adaptogen that is increasing in popularity is kratom. Produced from leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree (more commonly known as kratom), it is known to induce stimulation (when taken in a low dose) and sedation (when taken in higher doses).


And while I appreciate Mother Earth for providing medicinal and consolation in her many forms, it doesn’t negate the harm that can be caused by using kratom, a substance the National Library of Medicine referred to as “a dangerous player in the opioid crisis.”


Kratom can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in the rehabilitation of those recovering from addiction. However, many researchers have found the adverse effect to be true — with addiction and withdrawal symptoms getting worse. In other words, someone who uses kratom may develop cravings for it eventually causing them to need the same medications used to treat opioid addiction.


My own experience with kratom came from the intrigue of a trendy alternative to alcohol. A visit to a local kava bar allowed me to savor the unfamiliar experience; trying kava and a sample of kratom granted me the ability to knock out a three-page paper due that night in an hour. My body tingled a little as a result of the concoction, but it didn’t interrupt my laser focus and I was impressed at my brain’s ability to concentrate (as it often likes to travel when tasked.) After I left, I raved about the concept to everyone and couldn’t wait to return! 


My current awareness doesn’t take away from my initial experience, but it does wave a flag of unease as many anticipated partakers or returning drinkers aren’t aware of the effects, especially those who are journeying with their own sobriety.


The increase in the use of vapes, marijuana, and supplements has been viewed as proxies to drinking or other drug usage. With rising social acceptability, substances like kratom appeal to those trying to abstain from what users may think to be safer alternatives.


These safer alternatives aren’t hard to find either: just walk into a gas station or convenience store. Your interest peaks at the sight of new inventory or your curiosity finally gets the best of you and you decide it’s time to start inhaling Cinnamon Toast Crunch flavored air. Or visit a true smoke shop and the allure of a wall of products claiming to produce euphoric effects and sedative effects may entice you since many of these brands claim to help in the relief of symptoms corresponding to anxiety, depression and corporeal pain. 


It all sounds good — accessible, affordable and convenient — but the risk may outweigh acquisition, especially for the drug tianeptine, widely referred to as “gas station heroin.” Packaged in a small bottle with a cute cartoon figure of a merman is an “elixir,” sold in various gas stations and smoke shops. This product is Neptune’s Fix and has been linked to overdoses, seizures and suicidal ideation. It contains tianeptine, an unapproved antidepressant that also has “opioid receptor activity.” The product has been recalled since February of this year but comes too late as there have been reports of life-altering effects and the loss of life from its use.


Catchy names —Pegasus, Red Dawn, Tianna and ZaZa Red, to name a few — fun packaging and accessibility have allowed the substance to compile its latest customer base: minors. With negligent cashiers, fake IDs, ease of reach and mishandling of this “gas station heroin” raises legitimate concern. 


Just like Kratom, tianeptine is often marketed toward opioid users or those looking for a way to overcome withdrawals. The warnings are often whispered as consumers use products projected as safe without being provided the full picture. 


Buzzwords such as “health,” “wellness,” “holistic,” “relief” and “alcohol-free” foster a sense of (blind) trust between the consumer and the company. Endorsements by celebrities and idols who we aspire to be further cement that confidence in these brands. And simple word of mouth from loved ones and peers nail the belief. While every non-alcoholic drink or alternative supplement isn’t dangerous, of course,with many offering phenomenal benefits, it doesn’t excuse the lack of ingredient transparency or easy access.


This conversation could spawn into so many directions regarding consumption. Many chop it up to personal responsibility, while some fully denounce any negative effects, and while too much of anything can be negative: 


Does that omit business culpability? 


Does a natural substance deserve to be pitted in the same ring as a manufactured antidepressant? 


Is the government’s involvement corrupt? 


While I don’t care too much about what you may do in your free time, it doesn’t release the onus to advocate against these products, especially to protect the vulnerable. 


The spread of ignorance of the inception of perceived addiction doesn’t always start in back-lit ally-ways or seedy Craig’s Lists postings, they can start in a trendy bar or from a quick run inside to put money on “pump 8.”