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The Dangers of Gas Station Sex Pills

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 08/08/2021

Updated 01/31/2024

Except for the drink fridges and the candy aisle, a pharmacy and a gas station don’t have much in common. And as you might imagine, if you’re looking for safe medications, one is clearly preferable over the other.

If you’re experiencing some sexual performance issues at the moment, you might have considered male enhancement pills a solution worth paying inside for, but we’re here to tell you that over-the-counter sex pills aren't ED medications like Viagra that are considered safe and effective. 

Do gas station sex pills work? Sometimes, potentially. 

But these male enhancement dietary supplements are not FDA-approved erectile dysfunction drugs, and the best gas station sex pills may be the worst choice you can make for your health, for a few reasons:

  • They contain natural ingredients that lack rigorous research support 

  • A lack of approval, oversight and safety standards from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • They sometimes illegally contain ingredients that aren’t mentioned on their label.

Wondering why you should prioritize the kind of ED meds that a urologist or other healthcare professional can prescribe instead? Read on. But first, a primer.

Some of the gas station sexual enhancement products on the market today have built themselves decent brand recognition as so-called over-the-counter sex pills. ED, PE and whatever else you’re struggling with — these products claim to solve (and enhance) everything.

A few of the enhancement supplements include:

There may be eleven more on retailers’ shelves by the time you read this, such as the Stree Overlord® pill

Even the FDA has trouble keeping up with the number of products on shelves, and most of them lack much scientific backing. Here are some info highlights about the most common ingredients in these mystery penis packs:

  • Horny goat weed (also called epimedium) has been shown to provide small benefits to erectile dysfunction in testing on animals due to an ingredient, icariin. But there are no significant human studies showing whether or not these effects can translate to people. 

  • Red ginseng products lack much scientific evidence to show any value for ED treatment. We’ve written more about the research on ginseng and ED.

  • Yohimbine may increase sex drive, but it also isn’t clear how Yohimbine compares in effectiveness to regular ED medications. It can also have a lot of side effects (including some serious ones). 

  • Nizagara contains ingredients like L-arginine, red berry, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid, which have occasionally been linked to ED health benefits. Unfortunately, Nizagara contains an unlabeled ingredient, too: Viagra’s active ingredient, sildenafil. 

There’s not much to substantiate any of the claims about these products, and none of them have been tested in humans at scale or approved by the FDA for use as an ED treatment.

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Are these things safe? No, not even remotely. 

Not only is there limited medical rigor attached to their claims (unlike the FDA-approved stuff), but compared with established prescription drugs, they’re decades behind in terms of testing. That has led to shoddy claims, inaccurate labeling and even the illegal inclusion of prescription medications. 

In 2013, the Pharmacognosy Review concluded, “Due to unavailability of the safety data, unclear mechanisms, and lack of knowledge to support the extensive use of these substances, uses of these products may be risky to the human being.”

In 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public notification to consumers that products marketed as “herbal Viagra” aren’t safe. The reason? These convenience store herbal supplements actually contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in the real version of Viagra. But don't be tempted to pick up the gas station pills with sildenafil in them. Although they contain the active ingredient in Viagra, the FDA has warned that this is both illegal to do and undisclosed in the ingredients list.

Yes, sildenafil is technically the ingredient you want if you have ED. But you don’t want it in unmonitored, random doses. Gas station pills with sildenafil sound great until you realize that the dosing is not measured rigorously, making it a particularly risky sort of roulette to play with your erectile health. 

And this was just one of many cases in which unlabeled ingredients were found in similar products — enough to remove many of the ones you would have seen on shelves a decade ago and replace them with new ones.

Does gas station Viagra, sometimes-called “gas station boner pills” or “gas station dick pills” work for ED work? There seems to be no reliable information indicating they do, except in cases where these pills illegally contain any amount of actual sildenafil. 

But, as we said above, Viagra is only truly safe and effective when prescribed at the dose you need for your ED. 

Choose your chew

What gas station penis pills lack in scientific backing for their benefits, they more than make up for in risks and side effects.

Seriously, look at the side effects of just a few of the “natural ingredients” commonly found in ED supplements:

  • Yohimbine can cause insomnia, hypertension and sweating.

  • Ginseng can cause constipation and rash, and can be dangerous for people with diabetes. 

  • Ginkgo biloba can cause seizures in rare cases.

  • L-arginine researchers actually stopped a study early because six people (six!) died, compared with zero in the placebo group, when researching it in heart attack survivors. 

That’s the stuff that’s supposed to be in these pills. Read that again.

And don’t forget that some of these supplements can cause a variety of symptoms like headaches and blood pressure fluctuations similar to those experienced with improperly dosed prescription ED medications — in some cases, because they illegally contain improperly dosed ED medications. 

Tainted sexual enhancement products can potentially lead to heart attack — not a cheap evening of consequence-free, better sex.

Medication for erectile dysfunction should always be prescribed by a trained and certified healthcare professional.

A healthcare professional is going to direct you to safe and effective medications called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. PDE5 inhibitors keep you hard by keeping the blood vessels in your penis dilated and your corpora cavernosa engorged. 

There are several types you may have heard of:

  • Sildenafil (active ingredient of Viagra) is typically used at least 30 to 60 minutes before sex and can provide about four hours of erectile dysfunction symptom relief.

  • Tadalafil (active ingredient of Cialis®) can provide up to 36 hours of game time per dose.

  • Vardenafil (active ingredient of Levitra®) like Viagra, is also used at least 60 minutes before sex, but tends to last a little longer.

  • Avanafil (active ingredient of Stendra® can work in 15 minutes. It’s a newer ED drug, and research shows fewer side effects with avanafil than older drugs.

Several of these have been used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension in the past (and still are), so if you’re currently receiving other blood pressure treatments, you’ll want to let your healthcare provider know.

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ED is a fairly common health condition associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and blood flow. It affects an estimated 30 million to 50 million men nationally. That’s one in four guys, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about — certainly nothing that makes you anything but normal.

We get that some men feel self-conscious about ED, but if you’re buying a gas station pill to avoid going to the doctor, just go to the doctor. Similar to Spanish fly and other proclaimed effective, alternative treatments for ED, these products are all flash and no substance. In fact, they could be dangerous, too.

Embarrassment is a ground-level problem though, so let us give you some perspective:

  • A healthcare professional will be much less judgmental than the people in line behind you, and you won’t have to buy a Snickers® to disguise your purchase.

  • Healthcare providers can give you tailored medical advice, which is the most direct route to safe and effective treatment. 

  • They can screen for health conditions commonly associated with ED symptoms — from obesity and diabetes to anxiety and depression — and get you help for those, as well. 

In addition to lifestyle changes and therapy, you might also receive recommendations for medications we mentioned, like tadalafil or sildenafil (Cialis or Viagra). 

You may end up with a different medication altogether, which is fine. Just make sure that it’s safe and effective.

10 Sources

  1. Araujo, A. B., Travison, T. G., Ganz, P., Chiu, G. R., Kupelian, V., Rosen, R. C., Hall, S. A., & McKinlay, J. B. (2009). Erectile dysfunction and mortality. The journal of sexual medicine, 6(9), 2445–2454. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01354. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26559652/
  2. Publishing, H. (n.d.). Which drug for erectile dysfunction? Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/which-drug-for-erectile-dysfunction.
  3. Yafi, F. A., Jenkins, L., Albersen, M., Corona, G., Isidori, A. M., Goldfarb, S., Maggi, M., Nelson, C. J., Parish, S., Salonia, A., Tan, R., Mulhall, J. P., & Hellstrom, W. J. (2016). Erectile dysfunction. Nature reviews. Disease primers, 2, 16003. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrdp.2016.3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027992/
  4. Kotta, S., Ansari, S. H., & Ali, J. (2013). Exploring scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs. Pharmacognosy reviews, 7(13), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.112832 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731873/
  5. Emerging treatment options for ED: Hope or hype? Urology Times. (n.d.). https://www.urologytimes.com/view/emerging-treatment-options-ed-hope-or-hype.
  6. Dhaliwal A, Gupta M. PDE5 Inhibitor. updated 2020 jun 23. In: StatPearls internet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/
  7. Dhaliwal, A. & Gupta, M. (2022, May 20). PDE5 Inhibitors. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/
  8. VIAGRA- sildenafil citrate tablet, film coated. (2017, August). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/spl/data/40578e70-350a-4940-9630-55d90989c146/40578e70-350a-4940-9630-55d90989c146.xml
  9. CIALIS- tadalafil tablet, film coated. (2017, May). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/spl/data/05dbd8b6-1b9d-436a-a67c-8a16713f753f/05dbd8b6-1b9d-436a-a67c-8a16713f753f.xml
  10. STENDRA- avanafil tablet. (2017, August). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/spl/data/41d308f4-9a6a-48bb-b7a0-d63da9818078/41d308f4-9a6a-48bb-b7a0-d63da9818078.xml
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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