What are poppers?
Poppers are usually found in the form of a liquid chemical sold in a small bottle. They are a group of chemicals called alkyl nitrites. Specific alkyl nitrites include butyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite and amyl nitrite. They dilate the blood vessels and allow more blood to get to the heart.
The key effects of poppers can include:
- A short, sharp head-rush like 'high'.
- Enhanced sexual experiences.
- Chemical burns with the development of a rash around the nose and mouth, and/or irritation of the nose and throat.
- Feelings of sickness, faintness and weakness.
- Death – if swallowed; or if used by individuals with heart problems.
What do poppers look like?
Poppers are a liquid chemical (a nitrites), sold in small bottles with brand names like Ram, Thrust and Rock Hard.
In the past when nitrites were used to treat angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart) they came in small glass capsules that were popped open and sniffed, hence the name poppers.
Poppers are commonly sold as room aromas or deodorisers in sex shops, some clubs, market stalls and online.
How are poppers used?
Poppers are usually sniffed from the bottle. Some people prefer to dip a cigarette into the popper bottle and then inhale though the cigarette rather than sniff straight from the bottle.
The effects come on quickly, but don't last for long and fade after a couple of minutes.
It is important to be careful as poppers are highly flammable – with stories of people mistakenly burning themselves or others or lighting cigarettes that have been dipped in poppers and burning off their eyebrows.
Poppers are usually sniffed from the bottle. Some people prefer to dip a cigarette into the popper bottle and inhale rather than sniff straight from the bottle.
What are the effects of poppers?
Poppers have a range of effects:
- They give a head-rush 'high' that lasts a couple of minutes.
- They have been reported to have short-lived effects on sexual experience, specifically that they may make an orgasm feel like it lasts longer; may make an erection feel stronger (although some men have trouble getting an erection after sniffing poppers); and may make it easier for some people to have anal sex by helping to relax the anal sphincter muscles.
- They can leave some people feeling sick or faint with poor co-ordination.
What are the risks of using poppers?
Taking poppers is potentially dangerous for anyone with heart problems, anaemia or glaucoma (an eye disease).
Here’s what poppers can do to you.
- They can cause your blood pressure to drop to a dangerous level. So, you shouldn’t take them if you have problems with your blood pressure, are on any blood pressure medication, or if you are taking Viagra.
- You can die due to injury to red blood cells and reduced oxygen supply to vital organs.
- You may lose consciousness and could die through choking on your vomit. Using poppers with alcohol can increase this risk.
- Poppers are linked with risky sexual behaviour and may lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.
- They can burn your skin on contact and can kill you if you swallow them.
- They're highly flammable.
- They can cause nausea, headache, and disorientation. Poppers are usually sniffed from the bottle. Some people prefer to dip a cigarette into the popper bottle and inhale rather than sniff straight from the bottle.
- Fatal ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ has been reported due to development of an abnormal heart rhythm when taking poppers.
- There are a number of reports in recent years of cases of temporary and permanent loss of vision in users of poppers. This problem is referred to as ‘poppers maculopathy’. If you are experiencing problems with your eyesight after having used poppers, we would strongly advise you get medical advice
Mixing with alcohol
Mixing poppers with alcohol can increase the risk of reducing the oxygen supply to vital organs, unconsciousness and death
Purity is not usually an issue with poppers.
Can you get addicted to poppers?
There is no evidence to suggest that poppers are physically or psychologically addictive. There is some evidence that suggests that heavy, regular users may develop a tolerance and need to increase their use to achieve the same effects.
Poppers and the law
Poppers are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but amyl nitrite is regulated under the Medicines Act 1968 and there have been cases where the Medicines Act was used to fine shops for selling poppers.
Possession is not illegal but supply can be an offence.
Did you know?
Like drinking and driving, driving while under the influence of drugs is illegal – with some drugs you can still be unfit to drive the day after using. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving or even go to prison.