Poppers are recreational drugs made out of aliphatic nitrites, dissolved in chemical solvents with psychotropic properties. Poppers come as small bottles or glass ampoules filled with liquid chemicals called Alkyl Nitrites. There are three different types of poppers: amyl nitrate, butyl nitrate and isobutyl nitrite. All of these are directly sniffed from the bottle and have a strong acrid smell.
Amyl nitrate was discovered in 1844 by the French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard. In 1867, the Scottish physician Lauder Brunton used amyl nitrate as a treatment of Coronary artery spasm, before being replaced by nitroglycerin. It first came out as a recreational drug during the 1970s in sex shops and nightlife settings. Opening one of these small bottles makes a small click sound which is often described as “pop”, hence their name.
In some European countries, amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate are prohibited and classified as narcotics since the 1990s; but many countries such as the United Kingdom tolerate it: poppers can often be found in sex shops, clubs and gay bars. The possession of poppers is not illegal but supply could be an offence under the Medicines Act.
How does it make you feel?
Their effect is short, and does not exceed a few minutes. They give headrush (Vertigo), they cause disinhibition, euphoria and laughter. Some people sniff poppers during sex to enhance the experience: poppers are deemed to increase the duration of erection, amplifying sexual pleasure, and delaying ejaculation.
Organic nitrates cause a direct vasodilator effect. Vasodilation is the relaxation of the smooth muscles surrounding the arteries. It causes the dilatation of blood vessels; it decreases blood pressure, which is compensated by an increase of the heart rate. The digestive system and intestine are relaxed. Cerebral blood flow is also increased, which can explain the euphoric effect of poppers.
Risks for young people
Today, more young people – and sometimes teenagers – have an easy access to poppers. They always want to experience new things, boost the effects of music and lights on the dance floor, and/or enhance their sexual experiences: they are seeking for the euphoric effects of poppers.
As mentioned earlier, Poppers use is primarily recreational. It does not expose at any risk of long-term cognitive deficits, or mood disorders. The risk is of addiction is low, as stopping poppers does not expose to any particular difficulty: there is no physical dependence or withdrawal syndrome for poppers users. However, taking poppers repeatedly can lead to severe complications that many people (including adults) are unaware. Moreover, the legal status of this drug in many countries, plus the lack of awareness campaigning for educating the young public increases the risks.
Short-term side effects
First of all, you should be aware that snorting poppers can cause nose irritation; the appearance of yellowish crusts on your face; intraocular pressure, ocular hypertension and glaucoma (which can lead to blindness); headaches, nausea and vomiting. People suffering from occasional asthma attacks should avoid poppers, as nitrates can lead to further chronic bronchitis. For those suffering from heart disease, there is a higher risk of heart attack by hypotension, due to vasodilation mentioned earlier.
Second, when taken with other PDE inhibitor drugs (such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis) with the purpose to improve your sexual performance, you can suffer from intense vasodilatation. Indeed, using poppers repeatedly can alter your hemoglobin: your body is no longer able to transport oxygen in your vessels which causes a gray coloring of your skin (i.e. cyanosis with methemoglobinemia). Anyone suffering from cyanosis needs an oxygen treatment that can only be performed at the A&E (i.e. the emergency department), by methylene blue injection. In this case, further emergency actions will be carried out on the patient: blood pressure, pulse, respiration, etc. If the patient shows signs of prolonged malaise, Laboratory tests will be carried out such as: arterial blood sampling, complete blood cell count, or liver function tests.
Finally, users should always bear in mind that swallowing poppers is toxic and can be life-threatening.