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Poppers Dangers, Effects, Risks, History & Treatment

What Are Poppers?

Poppers is a street word or a slang term used to describe psychoactive drugs in liquid form that releases vapors inhaled by the user to get high. The first poppers contained amyl nitrites, a drug initially used in heart medications [1]. Still, now these drugs can contain several chemicals, including amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite, and isopropyl nitrite.

Poppers typically come in small bottles, giving them another nickname, liquid gold. However, they may also come in tiny capsules that can be crushed to release the vapors. Individuals will recreationally inhale the vapors straight from the bottle or use a cloth as with huffing.

Initially, poppers were often used among the LGBT community to relax muscles for anal sex, but its function has been expanded because of its many other euphoric effects [2]. Unfortunately, using poppers is a form of inhalant abuse, and recreational use of these drugs is illegal in the United States. However, not everyone follows these regulations, and poppers can sometimes still be purchased online or in sex shops.

According to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) [3], health care providers are reporting increases in hospitalizations and deaths linked to inhalation or intentional ingestion or nitrite products for recreational use, including sexual experience enhancement.

Never try to treat a real or imagined heart problem with poppers, unless prescribed by a doctor.
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Are Poppers Dangerous?

According to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) [4], these products are unsafe to ingest or inhale. Thus, while the risk of dependence is low, these drugs are not without their risks. The potential harmful effects associated with poppers can vary from mild allergic reactions to life-threatening methemoglobinemia, when there are abnormal amounts of hemoglobin in the blood.

The chemicals found in poppers can damage the skin or other tissues they come in contact with, cause difficulty breathing, seizures, extreme drops in blood pressure, decreases in blood oxygen levels, heart arrhythmia, coma, and death. Therefore, do not ingest or inhale under any circumstances.

Manufacturers are labeling and packaging these products in a way that may mislead consumers into thinking the poppers are safe or intended to be inhaled or ingested by drinking. For example, they are often packaged in the same style of bottles as energy drinks, and labeled with names like:

  • Rush
  • Sub-Zero
  • Iron Horse
  • Super Rush
  • Jungle Juice
  • Locker Room

One major concern is how poppers interact with other drugs. For instance, Viagra, Cialis, and other erectile drugs, when coupled with poppers, can create an unsafe drop in blood pressure. In addition, as this drug an reduce inhibitions like other drugs, the propensity toward unsafe sex is another potential concern.

How Do Poppers Work?

This drug usually comes in small bottles with colorful packaging. The contents evaporate into a breathable vapor when opened at room temperature. It is often sold as “room odorizers” to avoid legal detection because it is illegal in the US. Individuals use poppers by opening the bottle and inhaling the vapors through the mouth or nose. Some individuals also dip the end of a cigarette in poppers and inhale on it without lighting it, which is also dangerous because this chemical is highly flammable. Its side effects can lead to different problems, from skin rash to cognitive impairment. A lot of people who experiment with drugs usually find themselves in need of substance abuse treatment to fully recover.

How Long Do Poppers Last?

When the vapors from this drugs are inhaled, they enter the bloodstream through the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs. Its effects kick in after about 15 seconds but are short-lasting. These drugs effects normally last for only 2 to 5 minutes. However, how long poppers’ effects last depend on how much the person has inhaled. A popper’s high feels like a dizzying head-rush that can be euphoric.

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History of Poppers

Amyl nitrite was first synthesized in 1844 by French chemist Antoine Jerome Balard, who also discovered the chemical bromine. He passed nitrogen through amyl alcohol (pentanol) and produced a liquid whose vapor made him “blush”. Alkyl nitrites can also be manufactured by reacting the corresponding alcohol with either nitrous acid, or concentrated sulfuric acid and sodium nitrite.

From the ’60s onwards, this drug became a recreational drug, with different forms of alkyl nitrites produced, including isobutyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, and butyl nitrite, to get around legal restrictions. Clubbers widely used the drug for a brief time in the ’90s, and played a continued role in the gay subculture.

Evidence to suggest that heavy users might develop a tolerance to the drug, and need to increase their use to get the same high.

Effects of Poppers

This drug works almost similar to sensations of extreme alcohol intoxication. While some people find the effects of this drug pleasurable, others find it extremely unpleasant and disorienting. Poppers are also vasodilators, meaning they dilate (open) the blood vessels. Therefore, when someone uses this drug, their blood pressure drops rapidly, leading to lightheadedness and sometimes brief loss of consciousness and strength (syncope). At the same time, the heart speeds up, even if the person using poppers is relaxed, known as tachycardia.

Another effect of these drugs is the relaxation of the anal sphincter. Thus, these drugs are sometimes used to facilitate anal sex. Moreover, some users find that using poppers during sex increases sexual sensations and intensifies orgasm.

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Side Effects of Poppers

  • Euphoria
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Sedation
  • Relaxation
  • Increased heart rate
  • A rush of warm sensations
  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Sinusitis and respiratory infections and reactions
  • Skin lesions around the nose and lips (when the liquid gets on the skin)
  • Increased intraocular pressure, or pressure behind the eyes

Long-Term Effect of Poppers

  • Allergic reactions on the respiratory system and skin
  • A build-up of fluid pressure within the eye
  • Skin rash around the nose and mouth
  • Methaemoglobinaemia ( it is a blood disorder that can block oxygen supply to body tissue)
  • Maculopathy (it is a disease that affects the back of the retina (common with isopropyl nitrite)

Physical Health Risks of Poppers

  • Swallowing these drugs can be fatal.
  • Sniffing this drug is potentially harmful to anyone with anemia, heart problems, or glaucoma (an eye disease).
  • Sniffing this drug can make the users’ blood pressure drop. 
  • Fatal ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ has been reported due to the development of an abnormal heart rhythm when taking these drugs.
  • The use of this drug may lead to you losing consciousness and choking on your vomit. Using this drug with alcohol can increase this risk.
  • Taking this drug while having sex makes a person feel less inhibited and take risks. For instance, they are not using a condom. Because of this, poppers have been connected to people catching sexually transmitted diseases and injuring themselves during sex.
  • It is highly flammable and may cause chemical burns on the skin, leading to rashes around the mouth and nose.
  • Poppers can cause headaches, nausea, and disorientation.
  • Using this drug may cause temporary and permanent loss of vision.

Mixing Poppers with Other Drugs

It is dangerous to mix it with other drugs. Any time you mix drugs together, you take on new risks. Things that affect your risk include the strength, type of drug, and how much you take.

  • Mixing alcohol with this drug can increase the risk of reducing the oxygen supply to vital organs, unconsciousness and death.
  • Mixing Viagra with this drug or other erectile dysfunction medication is dangerous as they all affect blood pressure.

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Substance Use Among LGBT

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [5], research has shown that, when compared with the general population, gay and bisexual men, lesbian, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are more likely to:

  • Use drugs and alcohol
  • Have higher rates of substance abuse
  • Not withhold from drug and alcohol use
  • Continue heavy drinking into later life

Drug and alcohol use among some bisexual and gay men can be a reaction or response to discrimination, homophobia, or violence they experienced due to their sexual orientation. They can add to other physical and mental health problems. In addition, it can disturb relationships, employment and threaten financial security.

For some bisexual and gay men, illegal drug use and alcohol, especially meth, poppers (amyl nitrates), and medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, also contribute to a higher chance of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 

Aerosol propellants and chemical solvents disguised as poppers may be putting bisexual and gay men at risk of illness and possibly even death. Poppers are generally inhaled, But when toxic propellants (fuels) and solvents are inhaled, this activity is commonly known as huffing. This practice is considered one of the most treacherous forms of substance abuse known to humankind.

Amyl Nitrate Poppers Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no FDA-approved medication to treat inhalant addiction. Although psychotherapy or behavioral therapies may help treat inhalant abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, give us a call today. Whether it be an addiction to inhalants, such as poppers or other drugs and alcohol, We Level Up in NJ is here to help.

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[1] NCBI –

[2] [5] CDC –

[3][4] FDA –

[5] We Level UpInhalant Abuse Treatment