Variety of popper brands

Poppers is a slang term for various alkyl nitrites inhaled for recreational purposes, particularly isopropyl nitrite (2-propyl nitrite) and isobutyl nitrite (2-methylpropyl nitrite), and now more rarely, butyl nitrite and amyl nitrite (isoamyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite).[1] Amyl nitrite is used medically as an antidote to cyanide poisoning,[2] but the term "poppers" refers specifically to recreational use. Amyl nitrite and several other alkyl nitrites, which are present in products such as air freshener and video head cleaner,[3] are often inhaled with the goal of enhancing sexual pleasure.[4] These products have also been part of the club culture from the 1970s disco scene to the 1980s and 1990s rave scene.[5] Poppers have a long history of use due to the rush of warm sensations and dizziness experienced when the vapours are inhaled.

Although, according to at least one analysis, poppers have a lower risk of harm to society and the individual than do certain other recreational drugs,[6] other cases have shown that serious adverse effects can occur. In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, an ophthalmologist described four cases in which recreational users of poppers experienced temporary changes in vision.[7] There is some evidence to indicate that even occasional use of poppers may affect vision.[8] Accidentally swallowing or aspirating the liquid, rather than inhaling the vapours, is certainly dangerous and can prove fatal.[9][10]



Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton

Known for Treatment of angina pectoris

Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton (March 14, 1844–September 16, 1916), a Scottish physician, famously pioneered the use of amyl nitrite to treat angina pectoris. Brunton's clinical use of amyl nitrite to treat angina was inspired by earlier work with the same reagent by Arthur Gamgee and Benjamin Ward Richardson. Brunton reasoned that the pain and discomfort of angina could be reduced by administering amyl nitrite to dilate the coronary arteries of patients, thus improving blood flow to the heart muscle.

In addition, the light alkyl nitrites cause the formation of methemoglobin wherein, as an effective antidote to cyanide poisoning, the methemoglobin combines with the cyanide to form nontoxic cyanmethemoglobin.[11] First responders typically carry a cyanide poison kit containing amyl nitrite, such as the popular Taylor Pharmaceutical Cyanide Antidote Kit.[12]

TIME and the Wall Street Journal reported that the popper fad began among homosexual men as a way to enhance sexual pleasure, but "quickly spread to avant-garde heterosexuals" as a result of aggressive marketing. A series of interviews conducted in the late 1970s revealed a wide spectrum of users, including construction workers, a "trendy East Side NYC couple" at a "chic NYC nightclub", a Los Angeles businesswoman "in the middle of a particularly hectic public-relations job" (who confided to the reporter that "I could really use a popper now"), and frenetic disco dancers amid "flashing strobe lights and the pulsating beat of music in discos across the country."[13]

User surveys are hard to come by, but a 1988 study found that 69% of men who had sex with men in the Baltimore/Washington DC area reported they had used poppers, with 21% having done so in the prior year. The survey also found that 11% of recreational drug users in the area reported using poppers, increasing to 22% among "heavy abusers," with an average age of first use of 25.6 years old. Both survey groups used poppers to "get high," but the men that had sex with men were more likely to use them during sex. It was reported that this group reduced usage following the AIDS epidemic, while the drug-users had not.[14] A 1987 study commissioned by the US Senate and conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services found that less than 3% of the overall population had ever used poppers.[15]

Use by minors is historically minimal due, in part, to the ban on sales to minors by major manufacturers for public relations reasons and because some jurisdictions regulate sales to minors by statute.[16] A paper published in 2005 examined use of poppers self-reported by adolescents aged 12–17 in the (American) 2000 and 2001 National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse. In all, 1.5% of the respondents in this age group reported having used poppers. This figure rose to 1.8% in those over 14. Living in nonmetropolitan areas, having used mental health services in the past year (for purposes unconnected with substance use treatment), the presence of delinquent behaviours, past year alcohol and drug abuse and dependence, and multi-drug use were all associated with reporting the use of poppers.[17] In contrast to these low rates, a survey in the North West of England found a rate of 20% self-reported use of poppers among 16-year-olds.[5]


Inhaling nitrites relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the sphincter muscles of the anus and the vagina.[2] It is unclear if there is a direct effect on the brain.[18] Smooth muscle surrounds the body's blood vessels and when relaxed causes these vessels to dilate resulting in an immediate increase in heart rate and blood flow throughout the body, producing a sensation of heat and excitement that usually lasts for a couple of minutes.[19]

Alkyl nitrites are often used as a club drug or to enhance a sexual experience.[4] The head rush, euphoria, and other sensations that result from the increased heart rate are often felt to increase sexual arousal and desire.[4]

While anecdotal evidence reveals that both men and women can find the experience of using poppers pleasurable, this experience is not universal;[20] some men report that poppers can cause short-term erectile problems.[citation needed]

Health issues

Data from The Lancet shows alkyl nitrites to be the second least addictive and third least harmful of twenty popular recreational drugs.[21]

The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy reports that there is little evidence of significant hazard associated with inhalation of alkyl nitrites.[4] A study and ranking of drugs for harmfulness devised by British-government advisers and based upon scientific evidence of harm to both individuals and society showed that poppers pose little potential harm to individuals or to society when compared to other recreational drugs including alcohol and tobacco.[6] A 1983 U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation Briefing Package stated that "Available injury data did not indicate a significant risk of personal injury or illness from room odorizer abuse."[22]

Common side-effects of popper use include headaches,[23] a symptom of methemoglobinemia, and in some cases temporary erectile problems. Other risks include burns if spilled on skin.

More rarely, acute use of poppers has been associated with asphyxia, arrhythmias, cardiovascular depression, carbon monoxide poisoning, hepatorenal toxicity, mucosal, pulmonary, skin irritation and facial dermatitis.Rarely, the use of poppers can cause methemoglobinemia and hemolysis, especially in individuals predisposed towards such a condition or in overdose. An overdose via ingestion (rather than inhalation) may result in cyanosis, unconsciousness, coma and even death. Methylene blue is a treatment for methemoglobinemia associated with popper use.[2][9][24][25][26] Accidental aspiration of amyl or butyl nitrites may lead to the development of lipoid pneumonia.[10]

Poppers can interact with prescription vasodilators, such as sildenafil (Viagra), to cause a serious decrease in blood pressure, leading to fainting, stroke, or heart attack.[27][28][29]

Possible Eye Damage

Poppers can also increase intraocular pressure, and so should be avoided by people who have glaucoma.[30][31] In reference to vision loss, a published case concluded "No similar cases have been described in the more than 100-year history of pharmacological use of amyl nitrite for angina pectoris, and pharmacologically it is hard to point out a rationale behind the sequential visual loss."[32][33]

Most bottles of poppers sold in the UK for many decades contained isobutyl nitrite. This was, however, banned in 2007 and since then similar branded bottles have contained isopropyl nitrite. There is concern that isopropyl nitrite may be the cause of permanent visual problems in some individuals. The change in the composition of poppers may explain why the drug has been held to be harmless for many years, but is now producing reports of eye damage. In October, 2010, Dr. Michel Paques at the Quinze-Vingts National Hospital in Paris, France reported that at least some people may suffer permanent or temporary eye damage from the use of poppers—even when the poppers are used only once—in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.[8]

Association with AIDS epidemic

It has been suggested that poppers have been related to AIDS, HIV infection, and the AIDS-related cancer Kaposi's sarcoma.[34] Initially poppers were considered as a hypothesis for the then-burgeoning AIDS epidemic, and the idea has persisted in large part due to the activities of AIDS denialists as a pseudoscientific rationalization for the presence of AIDS in homosexual males.[35] Animal studies have suggested an association between alkyl nitrites and Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of skin cancer associated with HIV-positive individuals,[36][37] though a study of the use of poppers by HIV positive men did not support biological link between the two.[38] Instead it has been suggested the correlation was based on a bias among some popper users towards high-risk sexual behaviours.[39][40] In a 1986–1988 series of study reviews and technical workshops with leading authorities, mandated by the US Congress, it was concluded that nitrites are not a causal factor in AIDS infection or Kaposi's sarcoma.[15] A study that followed 715 gay men for eight and a half years published in the Lancet in 1993 rejected any causal relationship between AIDS and poppers.[41] Although the study did conclude an association between the use of poppers in the gay culture and contracting HIV, it also concluded an association between anal sex and contracting HIV. Citing this link, health authorities in some areas of the United States have mandated point of sale warnings on poppers.[42]

Because of possible alterations to the immune system, it has been suggested that HIV positive individuals may face extra health risks from the use of poppers.[43]


Products with declared ingredients have emerged on the market (e.g. Rush Liquid Incense contains isopropyl nitrite[44] which is said to be less potent than isobutyl nitrite[45]). However, other, proprietary poppers have caused debates about health issues in the media.

Poppers are a class of chemicals called alkyl nitrites. These are chemical compounds of structure R–ONO. In more formal terms, they are alkyl esters of nitrous acid.

The first few members of the series are volatile liquids; methyl nitrite and ethyl nitrite are gaseous at room temperature and pressure.

Organic nitrites are prepared from alcohols and sodium nitrite in sulfuric acid solution. They decompose slowly on standing, the decomposition products being oxides of nitrogen, water, the alcohol, and polymerization products of the aldehyde.

Physical and Chemical Properties (Sutton, 1963 for butyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite, and amyl nitrite ):

Isopropyl nitrite (2-propyl nitrite) Isobutyl nitrite (2-methylpropyl nitrite) Amyl nitrite (isoamyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite) Butyl Nitrite
Molecular Weight (g·mol−1) 89.09 103.12 117.15 103.12
Physical State Clear pale yellow oil Colorless Liquid Transparent Liquid Oily Liquid
Boiling Point (°C) 39 °C at 760 mmHg 67 97–99 78.2
Specific Gravity 0.8702 (20/20 °C) 0.872 0.9144 (0/4 °C)


Originally marketed as a prescription drug in 1937, amyl nitrite remained so until 1960, when the Food and Drug Administration removed the prescription requirement due to its safety record. This requirement was reinstated in 1969, after observation of an increase in recreational use.

Other alkyl nitrites were outlawed in the USA by Congress through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. The law includes an exception for commercial purposes. The term commercial purpose is defined to mean any use other than for the production of consumer products containing volatile alkyl nitrites meant for inhaling or otherwise introducing volatile alkyl nitrites into the human body for euphoric or physical effects.[46] The law came into effect in 1990. Visits to retail outlets selling these products reveal that some manufacturers have since reformulated their products to abide by the regulations, through the use of the legal cyclohexyl nitrite as the primary ingredient in their products, which are sold as video head cleaners, polish removers, or room odorants.

Amyl nitrite, manufactured by Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) and Eli Lilly and Company, was originally sold in small glass ampoules that were crushed to release their vapors, and received the name "poppers" as a result of the popping sound made by crushing the ampoule.[47] Today, reformulated poppers containing isobutyl nitrite are sold under brand names such as RUSH,[1][4] Locker Room,[1][4] Snappers,[1][48] and Liquid Gold.[1] Many different brands exist and are sold in different localities.

Around 1990, many Western governments banned the sale, importation or usage of alkyl nitrites (poppers) for use as an inhalant. In France, the sale of products containing butyl nitrites, pentyl nitrites, or isomers thereof, has been prohibited since 1990 on grounds of danger to consumers.[49] In 2007, the government extended this prohibition to all alkyl nitrites that were not authorized for sales as drugs.[50] After litigation by sex shop owners, this extension was quashed by the Council of State on grounds that the government had failed to justify such a blanket prohibition: according to the court, the risks cited, concerning rare accidents often following abnormal usage, rather justified compulsory warnings on the packaging.[51]

Poppers remain available over the Internet, under descriptions such as "video head-cleaning fluid", "room aromas" or "polish remover", as they remain legal in countries such as Poland, the United Kingdom and China.[52]

In the United Kingdom, poppers are widely available and frequently (legally[53]) sold in gay clubs/bars, sex shops, drug paraphernalia head shops, over the Internet and on markets.[54] It is illegal under Medicines Act 1968 to sell them advertised for human consumption, in order to bypass this they are usually sold as deodorizers.[55]

See also


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  7. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/health/research/19vision.html?ref=science The New York Times: "Vision: A Quick High for Sex May Damage Vision"
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  • poppers — UK [ˈpɒpə(r)z] US [ˈpɑpərz] noun [plural] informal a drug in the form of a liquid that people breathe in through their noses in order to experience a high (=feelings of extreme pleasure and excitement) Thesaurus: illegal drugs and drugs sometimes …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Poppers — Verschiedene Poppers Fläschchen Poppers (Plural, von englisch to pop, „knallen“) ist eine Slang Sammelbezeichnung für eine Gruppe flüssiger und kurzzeitig wirksamer Drogen. Der Name rührt von dem Geräusch des Öffnens (Knallen) der Glasampullen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Poppers — Pọp|pers 〈Pl.〉 gefäßerweiternde Droge, die aus Ampullen inhaliert wird * * * Pọp|pers, das; (Jargon): nitrithaltiges Rauschmittel, dessen Dämpfe eingeatmet werden. * * * Poppers,   auf Amylnitratbasis hergestellte Drogen, die gefäßerweiternd… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Poppers — Pop|pers das; <aus engl. (ugs.) poppers zu to pop »(regelmäßig) Drogen nehmen«, eigtl. »knallen, platzen«> (Jargon) ein nitrithaltiges Rauschmittel, dessen Dämpfe eingeatmet werden …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • POPPERS, MEIR BEN JUDAH LOEB HA-KOHEN — (d. 1662), kabbalist of Ashkenazi descent who was active in Jerusalem after 1640. A pupil of Jacob Ẓemaḥ, he became the last editor of the Lurianic writings. He divided the mass of Vital s different versions of Luria s teachings into three parts …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • POPPERS (Popers), JACOB BEN BENJAMIN HAKOHEN — (d. 1740), German rabbi. Born in Prague, Poppers studied under his father and in various yeshivot. He was subsequently appointed rabbi of Coblenz and of Trier, in the Rhineland. He declined an invitation to Halberstadt in 1718 but accepted the… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • poppers — ➡ drugs * * * …   Universalium

  • Poppers — Pọp|pers 〈Pl.〉 (bes. unter Homosexuellen verbreitete) gefäßerweiternde Droge, die aus Ampullen inhaliert wird [Etym.: zu engl. pop »Knall« (beim Öffnen der Ampullen)] …   Lexikalische Deutsches Wörterbuch

  • poppers — pop|pers [ papərz ] noun plural INFORMAL a drug in the form of a liquid that people breathe in through their noses in order to experience a HIGH (=feelings of extreme pleasure and excitement) …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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