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
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',
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
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.
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 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. 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