Amyl Nitrite, commonly referred to as poppers, was initially created to effectively lower blood pressure in those with heart disorders. However, it later became more popular for its ability to relax vaginal/anal cavities, allowing for easier penetration and heightened orgasms. While anyone can use poppers, this drug is most commonly seen amongst gay & bi-sexual, cis-males communities.
From the dance floor to the bedroom, Poppers created feelings of lightheadedness and euphoria similar to that of excessive alcohol and psychoactive drug ingestion at a much more affordable price point. Clubs went as far as to pump the vapor of the drug into the air, seeing that it is a room odorizer (1).
Moving into the 80s and 90s, health complications began to come to light, galvanizing fear around the drug. As AIDS entered the scene in the early 80s, Poppers initially were thought to be a contributing factor in contracting the disease, though this was later disproved (2). The 90s ushered in a revival and rise in consumption, with less institutional distribution than before. The drug has grown steadily ever since, becoming particularly popular across all identities in France (3) and Britain (4), staying consistently relevant in those circles to this day.
Effects & Side Effects
Poppers has several effects stimulating to both dance club and sexual experiences. In general, the effects of the drug are as follows: a drop in blood pressure, increased sex-drive, warm sensations throughout the body, and euphoria (5). Upon inhaling, users generally feel a rush of blood to the head and heart as well as muscle relaxation, namely of the vaginal or anal sphincters. This feeling makes sex more pleasurable, especially for those sensitive to penetration. The relaxation is coupled with a feeling of excitement and lightheadedness, summed to elevate the highs of sex without any evidence of physical or psychological addiction (6).
Poppers are not without side effects. While the most common is headache, several others include pressure behind the eyes (dangerous for those at risk for glaucoma), respiratory reactions such as wheezing, skin lesions around the inhalation sight, and allergic reactions. While these fall under direct side-effects, the drug carries other implicit effects that can be potentially harmful. For example, the drug effectively lower the user’s inhibitory complex, making it more likely for them to engage in high-risk sexual behavior (ie unprotected sex). This has led to a high incidence of HIV among the popper users relative to those in similar sexual identity communities abstaining from consumption (7). Underscoring this, the drug causes a higher likelihood for anal/vaginal bleeding due to the drop in blood pressure, allowing for easy STI transmission.
As in any risky sex-related decision, it is paramount to discuss the pros and cons with you partner before partaking. If you do decide to use Poppers, do so in a controlled environment to promote a safe and enjoyable experience. And if the drug is used, it is more important than ever to be consistently tested for STIs in order to avoid any unwanted complications discussed above.
- Dazed. “The Secret History of Poppers.” Dazed, 26 Oct. 2015, https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/27124/1/the-secret-history-of-poppers.
- Lusher, Adam. “So What Exactly Are Poppers?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/so-what-exactly-are-poppers-a7052141.html.
- Beck, François, et al. “Poppers at Top: Alkyl Nitrites Use in France.” Medecine Sciences : M/S, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25311028.
- Webb, E, et al. “An Update on British Medical Students' Lifestyles.” Medical Education, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1998,
- Leonard, Jayne. “What Are Poppers and Are They Safe?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 13 Dec. 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324000.php#effects-and-side-effects.
- “Sex. Love. Life.” Poppers, http://www.tradesexualhealth.com/sexual-health/sex-drugs/poppers.html.
- Romanelli, Frank, et al. “Poppers: Epidemiology and Clinical Management of Inhaled Nitrite Abuse.” Pharmacotherapy, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2004, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14740789.