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Drug Information



What are poppers?

Poppers refer to amyl, butyl or isobutyl nitrites, known collectively as alkyl nitrites; they have a short acting stimulant effect. They are usually a clear yellow liquid with a sweet smell when fresh that eventually smells like dirty socks when stale. Poppers usually come in small screw-top bottles. The term poppers results from the fact that the medical form of amyl nitrite used to be in a small glass capsule that had to be crushed to open and a popping sound would result. Amyl nitrite used to be used as treatment for angina.

How are they used?

Poppers are usually inhaled straight from the bottle, although they can be inhaled from absorbent material. It is dangerous to swallow poppers.

What are the effects?

The effects of poppers start more or less immediately and last for only a few minutes. They cause the blood vessels to dilate, the heart to beat faster and blood to rush to the brain, giving users what is known as a ‘rush’, which can often involve laughter, dizziness and a feeling of light-headedness. Many users also report having a flushed complexion and pounding headache after using poppers.

Poppers are believed to enhance orgasm, but can also lead to difficulty in maintaining an erection. They can also be used during anal sex as they act as a muscle relaxant, making it less uncomfortable. Heavy use of poppers may result in a reduction of oxygen in the blood. Although deaths are rare, they usually occur as a result of people swallowing instead of inhaling the liquid.

Cases of nitrite dermatitis have been reported, where the skin around the mouth and nose becomes sore. However, this will usually clear when use stops. A painful burning sensation usually occurs if the liquid is spilled on the skin.

Tolerance can occur but fades when use is stopped and there is no evidence that a physical or psychological dependence occurs. Anyone with heart trouble, low blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems should avoid using nitrites.

Legal Status

The possession and use of poppers is currently not illegal, although this situation may change. The legal situation regarding the sale of poppers is complex. For further information regarding the legal status of poppers contact Release on 0845 4500215.


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