What are Poppers?

Poppers are made from a group of chemicals known as alkyl nitrites, examples of which are butyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite and amyl nitrite. They are normally supplied in small, plastic bottles as liquid chemicals.

The poppers ‘high’ is a result of the blood vessels becoming dilated, allowing more blood to get to the heart.

The key effects of poppers can include:

  • A ‘high’ that can best be described as a sharp, quick head rush.
  • Heightened sexual experiences.
  • Chemical burns – normally of the face and nose – and/or a rash.
  • Irritation of the throat and nose.
  • Feelings of faintness and, possible, sickness.
  • When used by those with heart problems they can prove fatal.

What do poppers look like?

The small bottles that poppers are supplied in usually have names such as TNT, Liquid Gold, Rock Hard, Thrust and Ram.

The name Poppers comes from the historic use of the chemicals to treat angina. In the past, the chemicals were originally used to reduce chest pain by increasing blood flow to the heart. The nitrites were supplied in small, glass capsules that would be “popped” open and sniffed.

When sold in sex shops, nightclubs or online they are often described as deodorisers or room aromas.

How are poppers used?

There are two popular methods of using the chemicals. The first – and most popular – method is to sniff the nitrites straight from the bottle. The second method involves inhaling the chemicals through a cigarette, which is dipped into the bottle.

The effects of poppers are almost instantaneous but they quickly fade after just a few minutes.

Because poppers are highly flammable, there have been cases where people have burnt themselves badly whilst using them around lit cigarettes.

What are the effects of poppers?

There are a number of effects associated with poppers:

  • There is a distinctive head-rush that lasts for a few minutes.
  • A variety of effects on sexual performance have been observed. Men often feel that the chemicals make an orgasm last longer or an erection seem harder. (Note: poppers have also caused men to be unable to gain an erection!)
  • The sphincter muscles can become relaxed, making it easier to have anal sex.
  • Poor co-ordination, sickness and a feeling of weakness are effects reported by users of poppers.

What risks are associated with poppers?

For those that suffer from heart problems, anaemia or glaucoma, taking poppers can be very dangerous. Some of the risks include:

  • Your blood pressure can drop to dangerously low levels. If you are taking Viagra or any sort of medication for low blood pressure, you should not use poppers.
  • Reduced oxygen supply to vital organs can cause death. Using poppers at the same time as alcohol can increase this risk.
  • You can lose consciousness and may die from choking on your own vomit.
  • Because they are highly flammable, you run the risk of burns when using them. They can also burn your skin and could even kill you if you inadvertently swallow them!
  • Cases of ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ have been reported, caused by abnormal rhythms of the heart.
  • Temporary or permanent loss of vision can also be caused when sniffing the chemicals. ‘Poppers Maculopathy’ is a recognised concern and anybody who has suffered vision problems after using poppers is advised to consult their GP in the first instance.
  • Alcohol and poppers are not a good combination. Together they will diminish the supply of oxygen to vital organs, often causing unconsciousness, sometimes-even death.

The law and poppers

  • Amyl Nitrate is  controlled substance under the Medicines Act of 1968. Some shops have been prosecuted under this legislation for selling poppers. However, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 does not control poppers.
  • Supplying poppers to another is an offence, although personal use or possession is not illegal.