What are poppers? – Cleveland Clinic
Poppers, or amyl nitrite, are a liquid chemical substance that produces vapors. When these vapors are inhaled, the poppers provide a feeling of euphoria and increased sexual pleasure for up to a few minutes at a time. Used primarily as a party drug, poppers are dangerous and cause complex side effects that harm your health. This is especially true when used in excessive amounts or for long periods of time.
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
LGBTQ+ health expert Henry Ng, MD, explains why poppers have become increasingly popular and controversial over the past decade, along with some of the dangers and risks.
What are poppers?
Poppers belong to a class of drugs called alkyl nitrites. Alkyl nitrites are vasodilators that cause your blood vessels to widen and your blood flow to increase. Since your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, the increased blood flow causes your blood pressure to drop. The widening of your blood vessels also causes the smooth muscle tissues in your body to relax.
Vasodilators were first used in 1867 by Thomas Lauder Brunton as a medical treatment for angina pectoris (chest pain). But by the 1970s, poppers had become a popular club drug, especially in relation to gay nightlife and the LGBTQ community. This is largely due to its role in relaxing soft muscle tissue, particularly the anal sphincter, and its ability to enhance pleasure and reduce pain for anyone engaging in anal sex.
Today, poppers come in small plastic bottles and are sold both online and in retail stores. Although they are not illegal to buy or sell in the United States, they are illegal for human consumption, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the drug. Poppers are often marketed as air fresheners, leather cleaners, VHS cleaners, or nail polish removers.
Legality outside the United States varies. In 2013, Canada banned poppers, citing adverse side effects. In 2018, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration proposed to ban poppers, but ultimately reversed that move in an effort to regulate amyl nitrite as a prescription-only drug. This reversal occurred due to protests from the LGBTQ community citing these bans as discriminatory and homophobic.
“Poppers are a product that has been used for some time to improve sexual experience and function,” says Dr. Ng. “But there are concerns that using poppers for sexual pleasure could have negative side effects that people haven’t talked about or might not be aware of.”
Are poppers dangerous for health?
Yes, poppers are dangerous and should never be inhaled. Inhaling vapors from poppers can cause serious side effects, some of which can be fatal.
Lowers your blood pressure
When using poppers, you often experience a rush in the head, feelings of warmth throughout your body, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and lightheadedness. These sensations can last from 30 seconds to a few minutes at a time and are caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure. In some cases, people who use poppers complain of headaches due to the widening of blood vessels in their brain. If your blood pressure drops too low, you run the risk of fainting or fainting.
Causes irregular heart problems which can be fatal
Your heart can also overwork. In an effort to move oxygen-rich blood to other areas of your body, you may experience tachycardia, when your heart beats more than 100 times per minute. If you experience chest pain or dizziness, you should go to the emergency room immediately.
Inhaling vapors can cause several irregular heartbeats which can lead to sudden sniffle death syndrome, where your heart no longer works properly. It can even happen for beginners.
Has side effects with medications
Poppers may also have negative interactions when used with other medications associated with blood pressure, heart failure, and erectile dysfunction. Medications like sildenafil (Viagra®) or tadalafil (Cialis®) also lower your blood pressure. When used together, this combination can lead to stroke, heart attack, or death. This is of particular concern, as research suggests there has been a continued increase in chemsex, or the recreational use of poppers and other drugs to enhance sexual pleasure.
“With chemsex, one of the concerns we have is that you’re less inhibited, and when you’re less inhibited, you may be less likely to use condoms and have a higher risk of exposure to HIV and other STIs,” notes Dr Ng.
Causes cellular changes that lead to chronic diseases
If you spill amyl nitrite on your skin, it can cause serious chemical burns. Vapors from poppers can also cause cellular changes that lead to complex and chronic conditions. In some cases, you may suffer from maculopathy or loss of vision as a result of retinal damage. This loss of vision may be permanent. You can also develop methemoglobinemia. This blood disorder occurs when your blood cells lose their ability to carry oxygen around your body.
“Even though there is a normal amount of oxygen that is inhaled through the lungs, the red blood cells actually cannot transport the oxygen because the normal hemoglobin in the red blood cell is altered and cannot transport the oxygen. oxygen properly,” says Dr. Ng. “As a result, people may develop symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, loss of muscle coordination and blue-colored skin.”
Can poppers be used in a healthy way?
The use of any drug always involves some risk. It is never advisable to use inhalants like poppers. If you do, you can minimize the risks associated with them by avoiding skin contact, avoiding mixing them with erectile dysfunction medications, and discussing safe sex practices with your partners in advance.
“Using poppers can be potentially dangerous,” warns Dr. Ng. “It can affect cardiovascular function, ocular function and increase exposure to STIs.”