History of Poppers & Amyl Nitrate

Poppers is the street name for types of alkyl nitrites.  These have been used since their creation for various recreational purposes and some medical ones. The main 2 types of poppers have been based on amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite. Amyl nitrite is used medically as an antidote to cyanide poisoning. Amyl nitrite and several other alkyl nitrites, which are present in products such as air freshener and video head cleaner, are often inhaled with the goal of enhancing sexual pleasure.

Club culture adopted the substances from the 1970s disco scene to the 1980s and 1990s rave scene.  Poppers have a long history of abuse due to the rush of warm sensations and dizziness experienced when the vapours are inhaled. Most often, poppers are used recreationally by men who have sex with men as a sexual enhancer or by young substance abusers. Poppers have a low risk of harm to society and the individual compared to other recreational drugs.  Serious adverse effects can, however, occur following acute exposure and with heavy long-term use there is a potential for neurological damage.  Poppers should never be swallowed as it can be fatal.


Direct, concentrated inhalation of amyl nitrite and the other light alkyl nitrites leads to a non-specific relaxation of smooth muscle, resulting in coronary vasodilation and decreased systemic vascular resistance and left ventricular preload and afterload. Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton (March 14, 1844 - September 16, 1916), a Scottish physician, is famously-associated with the use of amyl nitrite to treat angina pectoris.

Media report 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".

In a survey in the North West of England found a rate of 20% self-reported use of poppers among 16-year-olds.

Amyl nitrite was originally sold in small glass ampoules that were crushed to release their vapours, and received the name "poppers" as a result of the popping sound made by crushing the ampule. Today, generic-like street names include 'poppers', Pure Gold, Original Gold, Bang, Purple Haze, Hardcore and Liquid Gold.  Many brand names exist and are in use in different localities.


Inhaling nitrites relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the sphincter muscles of the anus and the vagina. It is unclear if there is a direct effect on the brain. 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.

Alkyl nitrites are often used as a club drug or to enhance a sexual experience. The head rush, euphoria, and other sensations that result from the increased heart rate are often felt to increase sexual arousal and desire. It is widely reported that poppers can enhance and prolong orgasms.

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

Health issues

Alkyl nitrites has similar adverse effects as other volatile substances. Acute intake of poppers may cause asphyxia, arrhythmias, cardiovascular depression, carbon monoxide poisoning, hepatorenal toxicity, skin irritation and facial dermatitis. With chronic use neurological damage may occur.    Swallowing alkyl nitrates can cause serious acute medical complications and may result in death. Accidental aspiration of amyl or butyl nitrites may lead to the development of lipoid pneumonia.

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. Taking Viagra with nitrites can cause a serious decrease in blood pressure, leading to fainting, stroke, or even heart attack. Poppers can also increase intraocular pressure, resulting in the medical condition glaucoma. 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". Rarely methemoglobinemia and hemolysis may occur especially in individuals predisposed towards such a condition or in overdose. An overdose via drinking poppers may result in cyanosis, unconsciousness, coma and even death.

Other risks include burns if spilled on skin, loss of consciousness, headaches, and red or itching rashes around the mouth and nose.

Suggestions of a link between poppers and either AIDS, HIV-infection, or an AIDS-related cancer called Kaposi's Sarcoma have been made and are a subject of on-going debate. Several researchers have demonstrated a statistical correlation between popper use and HHV-8-infection and development of Kaposi's Sarcoma. However the most recently published peer-reviewed English-language overview of research on the health risks of poppers notes a lack of controlled trials. The correlation might, therefore, be accounted for by a bias among some popper users towards high-risk sexual behaviours. A 1992 article in The Lancet draws exactly that conclusion in a finding that the practice of insertive rimming explained excess rates of Kaposi's sarcoma. In a 19861988 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.  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, but noted a correlation between HIV infection and poppers. Anal sex was also correlated.




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