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10 Things to know about Poppers

10 Things to know about Poppers

There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of poppers. Most men who have sex with men who use poppers use them during sex. Because poppers can be bought over the counter in bars and sex shops, the main misconception amongst many users is that they are not a drug. Often on gay dating apps, guys will say that they don’t do chems, but poppers are OK. Like any other drug, including alcohol, there are positive and negative effects. People should be able to make an informed choice when using, so here are some things about Poppers that you should know

What is it?

Poppers is slang for Alkyl Nitrate, a liquid chemical sold in a small bottle, usually sniffed. They first became popular in the heady post-Stonewall gay discos in the Seventies. People would sniff poppers to enhance the music and get a quick rush, usually straight from the bottle, but sometimes the liquid was applied to a handkerchief which was placed over the mouth and nose. Some clubs notoriously would pump poppers through the air-conditioning systems. Poppers also became a sex aid as it was soon discovered that it worked by relaxing the smooth muscles in the body, including the sphincter muscles in the anus.

What does it look like?

Poppers are a liquid chemical (alkyl nitrites), sold in small bottles with brand names like Liquid Gold, Rush and Bang Aroma.

Nitrates were once used to treat angina (chest pains) and came in small glass capsules that were popped open and sniffed, hence the name poppers.

They are often sold as ‘room aromas’, ‘deodorisers’ and ‘leather cleaners’, but they’re not actually used in this way. They can be found in sex shops, clubs, market stalls and online.

What does it taste/smell like?

Poppers have a very strong solvent smell. You shouldn’t taste poppers, swallowing them is very dangerous. People have died from drinking poppers.

How do people take it?

People sniff poppers, either straight from the bottle or from something absorbent like a cloth or the end of an unlit cigarette.

How does it make you feel?

Sniffing poppers increases blood flow to the body giving some users:

  • a head-rush that lasts for a couple of minutes
  • a sense of euphoria
  • increased sex drive and skin sensitivity

It can also leave you:

  • feeling sick and faint
  • uncoordinated
  • with a nosebleed
  • with a headache
  • with chest pains

Because poppers increases blood flow and can relax the walls of the anus and vagina, some people take them while they’re having sex. Some men say that poppers also makes their erections stronger, and their orgasms more intense. But for some men it’s the opposite, and they have trouble getting an erection after sniffing them.


How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken. Although the high from poppers is over in a few minutes, you may feel dizzy or sick after taking them – and you may get a headache.

Physical health risks

  • Swallowing poppers can be fatal.
  • Sniffing poppers is potentially dangerous for anyone with heart problems, anaemia or glaucoma (an eye disease).
  • Sniffing poppers can make your blood pressure drop. You shouldn’t take them if you have problems with your blood pressure, are on any blood pressure medication, or if you’re taking erectile dysfunction medication such as Viagra.
  • Fatal ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ has been reported due to development of an abnormal heart rhythm when taking poppers.
  • Users can also die from injury to red blood cells and reduced oxygen supply to vital organs, but this is very rare.
  • Poppers may lead to you losing consciousness and choking on your vomit. Using poppers with alcohol can increase this risk.
  • If you use poppers while you’re having sex, be aware that you may feel less inhibited and take risks – such as not using a condom. Because of this, poppers have been linked to people catching sexually transmitted diseases and injuring themselves during sex.
  • Poppers are highly flammable and can cause chemical burns on the skin, leading to rashes around the nose and mouth.
  • Poppers can cause nausea, headache, and disorientation.
  • In recent years, there have been reports of people experiencing temporary and permanent loss of vision after using poppers. If you are experience problems with your eyesight after using poppers we strongly advise you get medical advice.

Is it dangerous to mix with other drugs?

Yes, any time you mix drugs together you take on new risks. Things that affect your risk include the type of drug, the strength and how much you take.

Mixing poppers with alcohol can increase the risk of reducing the oxygen supply to vital organs, unconsciousness and death.

Mixing poppers with Viagra or other erectile dysfunction medication is dangerous as they all affect blood pressure

Can you get addicted?

There’s no evidence to suggest that poppers are physically or psychologically addictive. But there is evidence to suggest that heavy users might develop a tolerance to the drug, and need to increase their use to get the same high.

Is Poppers Legal?

In South African you can by Poppers legally and are available in bars, sex on site clubs, sex shops and online. What you are buying is Alkyl Nitrate and not Amyl Nitrate, which is no longer available, and is most often sold as products not for human consumption. For this reason they are often sold as a ‘room odouriser’ and ‘leather cleaner’.

In Canada poppers have been banned since 2013, and there was a move to ban in the United Kingdom

Taking Care of Yourself

As with any recreational substance, it pays to be circumspect. Don’t go too hard, and try not to mix the drug with anything that’s going to exacerbate its effects. But does doing that make poppers safe in moderation? In short: kind of, maybe. It depends on the sniffer, and there’s always going to be some people who have worse reactions than others. Poppers are certainly less harmful than many other recreational drugs, and does not lead to physical dependence. Some people may experience unpleasant side effects with minimal use or other unforeseen consequences relating to their behaviour while taking the drug. As with any recreational drug, its effects can be unpredictable for an individual, so take care.