The Truth About “Legal” Highs & Their Consequences


A new wave of substances has emerged on the market, creating a concerning trend among teenagers seeking altered states of consciousness. “Legal” highs - drugs marketed as safe alternatives to traditional narcotics are growing in popularity. Leading the pack is Delta-8, Kratom, and Tianeptine (often referred to as ZaZa or Tianaa). The term "legal" may be misleading though, as the regulation surrounding these substances is murky at best and they certainly aren’t safe. In this blog, we will delve into the facts about Delta-8 and other unregulated "gas station drugs", shedding light on the potential risks they pose to your teen's well-being.


Delta-8 THC


Delta-8 THC is a minor cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its more well-known cousin, Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 is only found in small amounts and up until recently wasn’t very popular. The legal status of Delta-8 THC is a gray area, as it is sometimes extracted from industrial hemp, making it technically legal in some locales. This legality, coupled with scientific processes that allow for the creation of concentrated doses of Delta-8 made a drug whose effects can be similar to traditional THC. This includes feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception. Parents should be aware of the potential risks and legal implications associated with Delta-8 THC use among teenagers as there are many states in the country where it is still illegal.




Kratom, derived from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia, has gained popularity as a natural remedy for pain relief and mood enhancement. Readily available at gas stations and smoke shops around the country, there are only a handful of states that have made it illegal.  While legal, it is essential to recognize that kratom is not without risks. The active compounds in kratom activate the opioid receptors in the brain, leading to opioid life effects. Long-term use can result in physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Like Delta-8, concentrated versions of Kratom are being created which amplify the psychoactive effects and advance the likelihood of addiction. Parents should educate themselves on the potential dangers of kratom, its legal status, and openly discuss these risks with their teens.




Tianeptine is a tricyclic antidepressant drug approved and prescribed in Europe and abroad, but it is not approved for medical use in the United States. Like Kratom, it exists in a gray legal area. Tianeptine is not illegal on the federal level but many states across the country have made it illegal on the state level.  Despite this, or because of it, tianeptine is readily available for purchase online and has gained popularity for its mood-enhancing effects. Tianeptine also works on the opioid receptors in the brain leading to severe addiction issues and intense withdrawal symptoms. There have been several deaths associated with tianeptine use.


Gateway to Riskier Behaviors


It’s far too common that teens experimenting with legal substances graduate to riskier behavior. The threshold for acceptable behavior shifts and the desire to explore illicit drugs and their potential effects grows. Understanding the potential progression from "legal" substances to more harmful ones is essential for parents to address the issue proactively and keep their children out of harmful situations. 


Talking to Your Teenagers


Open and honest communication is crucial when talking about drugs and drug use with your teenager. Whether you’re talking about legal or illegal highs, it is essential to cultivate a non-judgemental space for conversation. Begin by expressing genuine concern for their well-being and explaining the potential risks associated with these substances. Encourage honesty and make sure your teenager understands the legal implications and potential health hazards of experimenting with unregulated drugs.


Getting Help


If you’re concerned about your teenager’s drug experimentation, legal or not, consider seeking the guidance of a healthcare professional. Navigating adolescent substance use is difficult enough on your own and it can help to have the assistance of an objective third party who can help facilitate conversations, answer questions, and help you make informed decisions. Call Sustain Recovery today to learn about your options, ask questions, or talk about adolescent substance abuse treatment