Medically Approved

Are “gas station” ED pills safe?

4 minute read
Man holding pills in his hand

You can buy cheap male-enhancement supplements at gas stations and corner stores. But should you? 

Jennifer Howze

By Jennifer Howze

Next time you pay for a bag of chips at a gas station or convenience store, look around. It’s hard to miss the displays of male enhancement supplements lined up near the cash register. These products (known as Rhino pills or “gas station” pills) promise firmer, longer-lasting erections.

But buyer beware: These supplements are not a safe way for a guy to rev up his sex life.

You may recognize the pills simply by the packaging. They’re marketed with a wide range of names under the Rhino brand: Krazzy Rhino, Rhino 69 Power 500K, Rhino 7, Gold Rhino, Platinum Rhino and more. The packaging shows a picture of the thick-skinned mammal with a big horn.

Each package contains a single dose of a supplement and often includes tempting words such as “time,” “size” and “stamina.” If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

What exactly are Rhino pills?

Rhino pills are categorized as dietary supplements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Supplements can contain minerals, herbs, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids.

The FDA regulates supplements, but it doesn’t have the authority to review them for safety and effectiveness before they’re sold to consumers. Many supplements are helpful and reliable. Others, such as Rhino pills, can be harmful.

The FDA has issued consumer warnings about Rhino pills. These alerts advise men to avoid the products because of potentially dangerous ingredients.

Some Rhino products contain sildenafil or tadalafil, according to the FDA. These are, respectively, the active ingredients in Viagra® and Cialis®, two prescription medications that treat erectile dysfunction (ED). (Read Erectile dysfunction: The Optum Guide to learn more about ED.)

Why you shouldn’t use them

These products can cause serious harm to your health. They can even be fatal. According to the nonprofit news organization FairWarning, reported problems from Rhino pills include:

  • Penile pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coma
  • Death

What’s more, if you rely on Rhino pills for ED issues, you’re probably missing out on an important health checkup with your doctor. “When you’re prescribed those erectile dysfunction meds by a good physician, they will go over the benefits and potentials risks,” says Marc S. Cohen, MD. He’s a urologist and medical adviser at Bastion Health in Sarasota, Florida.

Erectile problems can be related to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. If your doctor diagnoses one of these problems, you’ll want to start treatment as soon as possible. (For further reading: What ED Reveals About Your Health.)

Even if your erectile issues are unrelated to other health conditions, your doctor can offer help and provide solutions. They might write a legitimate prescription for Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) or another treatment. And they will monitor your dosage and track any side effects you have.

On the other hand, if the ingredients in Rhino pills are taken without a doctor’s supervision, it could lead to a bad reaction. That is especially true, the FDA warns, if you take medications with nitrates for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or other conditions.

The Optum Store providers can help you find a safe, effective treatment for ED. They’ll review your unique medical history, monitor your medication doses and more. Get started.

Who makes these pills?

It may not inspire confidence to know that the maker of Rhino pills isn’t a big medical company. Instead, it’s one man in California who smuggled sildenafil and tadalafil in from China. In 2021 he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison. But some of the products remain on store shelves.

Supplement safety tips

Not all supplements are dangerous. In general, many herbal supplements, vitamins and minerals are safe and effective. But it’s important to follow a few basic precautions before you take one:

Check with a doctor. Even though you don’t need a prescription to buy supplements, they can include active ingredients that have strong effects or interact with other medications. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement. They can advise you on whether it may interact badly with another medication you’re taking.

Go with large, well-known brands. It’s important to choose your supplements and supplement companies wisely, says Robin Foroutan, a dietitian and integrative nutritionist in New York City. “That goes for all dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs,” she says. “The last thing you want to do as a consumer is spend a lot of money on supplements that don’t work — or worse, contain dangerous contaminants.”

Dr. Cohen agrees that caution is key. “There are all kinds of pill mills in countries outside the U.S. where they say they are providing you with a particular product,” he says, but the quality of the ingredients and the chemicals used to produce them are unknown. (You can find a range of supplements to support your mind and body at the Optum Store. Shop now.)

Turn to the experts. Do your research on noncommercial or government sites such as the National Institutes of Health. You can also consult a registered dietitian or other trained professional. “It’s so important to work with a health provider who knows how to advise you on dietary supplements,” says Foroutan.

If you’ve already taken Rhino pills

Let your doctor know if you’ve tried Rhino pills. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it. “It’s important for patients to make sure their physicians know what they’ve tried,” says Dr. Cohen. Don’t be shy about telling them, he says. Doctors are there to help, not judge.

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Additional sources
FDA supplement information: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2019). “Information for consumers on using dietary supplements”
FDA Rhino pill alert: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2021). “Tainted sexual enhancement products”
Rhino pill creator arrested: FairWarning (2021). “Potent Rhino pills outlast anything — even the arrest of their creator”