Lab Testing Detects Synthetic Pot in ‘Gas Station Heroin’

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Feb. 2, 2024 – A new CDC report says synthetic cannabis has been found in some so-called gas station heroin products, which are often marketed as mood-boosting supplements that can help with alertness or energy. 

The products have been the target of frequent FDA warnings over the years because they are often found to also contain the antidepressant tianeptine, which can have opioid-like effects. The CDC’s new report centered on 17 people in New Jersey who had severe health problems last year after taking poisonous doses of the tianeptine products. 

Thirteen people were admitted to the intensive care unit, and seven people had to have a breathing tube inserted. The report said none of them died, but they had altered mental states and a range of other problems, including a rapid heart rate of over 100 beats per minute, low blood pressure, seizures, and other heart problems.

Fourteen of the people in the report took products sold under the brand name Neptune’s Fix. 

Testing of some of the Neptune’s Fix products used by people in the report detected a substance sometimes used to treat anxiety called kavain, along with two types of synthetic cannabis. 

“It was a surprise to find those compounds in there at all,” Diane Calello, MD, New Jersey Poison Control Center medical director and author of the CDC report, told NBC News. “That’s probably not what the people who bought those products were looking for.”

The report warned that along with the drugs potentially causing severe clinical effects, they could cause dependence.

While some other countries do regulate tianeptine as an antidepressant, it is not approved for use in the United States. The FDA has regularly issued alerts about the drug being found in products marketed as diet pills and as health supplements in recent years. Some product names have included “Tianaa,” “Tianeptine sulfate,” “ZaZa Red,” or “Pegasus,” according to the FDA.

Last month, the FDA advised people not to buy or use Neptune’s Fix or any other tianeptine product amid reports of people having seizures, passing out, and  dying.

“These products may also interact, in life-threatening ways, with other medications a consumer may be taking,” the FDA warned.

Tianeptine products retail online for around $30 or less, and one online seller described the effects as “fast-acting and long-lasting mood support, helping you navigate through daily stressors with ease. Experience the life-changing effects of this powerful elixir and unlock the door to a happier, more fulfilled you.”

The maker of Neptune’s Fix products issued a voluntary recall of three varieties on Jan. 28, according to a notice posted on the FDA’s recall webpage.

“The products are being recalled because they contain tianeptine, an ingredient that is not FDA-approved for any medical use,” the recall notice stated. The company said it had notified distributors and customers via a mailed letter and was arranging for the return of all recalled products.