From Antidepressant Tianeptine to Street Drug ZaZa: A Narrative Review


Tianeptine is often incorrectly described as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, but it actually is a µ-opioid receptor agonist with anxiolytic effects. It has been approved since the last 1980s in about 24 countries as a treatment for depression, but it was never cleared to market in the United States for this purpose. Nevertheless, tianeptine joined the billion-dollar US market of nootropics as ZaZa or Tianna Red and is widely available online and in small shops without a prescription, to the point that it has been nicknamed “gas station heroin.” While the therapeutic dose range is about 25 to 50 mg/day, tianeptine abusers may take 100 times that amount. Tolerance occurs rapidly and users who seek to recapture the short-lived euphoric effects of the drug have to take more and more. Social media has peer-support sites for those trying to discontinue tianeptine. Tianeptine is associated with multiple side effects at high doses along with dependence, withdrawal symptoms, toxicity, respiratory depression, and even mortality. Agitation is more often a presenting symptom of withdrawal than toxicity. Tianeptine is often used by polysubstance drug abusers who may be unaware of the drug’s dangers. Few clinicians are aware of tianeptine and most urine assays do not screen for it. Greater awareness is needed for this drug and steps must be taken as tianeptine or “gas station heroin” is emerging as a new public health threat.


Wagner M L, Pergolizzi J, LeQuang J K, Breve F, Varrassi G. (June 20, 2023) From Antidepressant Tianeptine to Street Drug ZaZa: A Narrative Review. Cureus 15(6): e40688. doi:10.7759/cureus.40688

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