What Are Poppers? Are They Safe To Use?

Before using a new drug, you must carry out some research on it. You should learn about its uses, potential side effects and any drug interactions it may have. In this article, we will focus on one drug: poppers. You will get to learn what are poppers, how they are used and if they are safe to use. Read along to find out more about the drug.

Drug use around the world is on the rise. According to UNODC, by 2023, there will be a 11% increase in the number of people who use drugs.This increase is due a lot of reasons ranging from ease of use, legality, seeking social glorification and much more.

Drugs tend to excite the parts of the brain that make you feel good. However, after you take a drug for a while, the feel-good parts of your brain get used to it. Henceforth, you need to take more and more drugs to get the same good feeling. Soon, your brain and body require those drugs just to feel normal.

If you stop taking them, you feel sick, awful, anxious, and even depressed. You no longer have that good feeling that you first had when you started using the drug. This is especially true if you use illegal drugs or if you misuse any prescription drugs. Misuse includes consuming a drug differently than how your doctor has told you. This includes taking more pills than advised or crushing pills to shoot up or snort, using someone else’s prescription, or taking it just to get yourself high.

The same is true for the famous drug poppers, just like any other drugs, this drug is meant to get you high and has multiple side effects which are harmful for young and old alike. So let’s find out what are poppers and why people may use them.

What are drugs?

Drugs are substances that change a person’s physical or mental state. The vast majority of drugs are used to treat medical conditions, both physical and mental. Some, however, are used outside the medical setting for their effects on the mind. These are referred to as recreational drugs, and many of them are illegal all around the world.

Types of drugs

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

CNS depressants slow down the operations of the brain and the body. Examples of CNS depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, anti-anxiety tranquilizers (e.g., Valium, Librium, Xanax, Prozac, and Thorazine), GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol, and many other antidepressants (e.g., Zoloft, Paxil).

CNS Stimulants

CNS stimulants accelerate the heart rate and elevate the blood pressure and “speed-up,” or over-stimulate, the body. Examples of CNS stimulants include cocaine, “crack” cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine (“crank”).


Hallucinogens cause the user to perceive things differently than they actually are. Examples include LSD, peyote, psilocybin and MDMA (Ecstasy).

Dissociative Anesthetics

Dissociative anesthetics include drugs that inhibit pain by cutting off or dissociating the brain’s perception of the pain. PCP, its analogs, and dextromethorphan are examples of dissociative anesthetics.

Narcotic Analgesics

Narcotic analgesics relieve pain, induce euphoria, and create mood changes in the user. Examples of narcotic analgesics include opium, codeine, heroin, demerol, darvon, morphine, methadone, Vicodin, and oxycontin.


Inhalants include a wide variety of breathable substances that produce mind-altering results and effects. Examples of inhalants include Toluene, plastic cement, paint, gasoline, paint thinners, hair sprays, and various anesthetic gasses.


Cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana. The active ingredient in cannabis is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This category includes cannabinoids and synthetics like Dronabinol.

History of poppers

Thomas Lauder Brunton, a British physician, played a major role in establishing pharmacology as a rigorous science. While he didn’t invent amyl nitrite aka poppers, he did pioneer its use in whiffing to treat chest pains also known as angina. Following his discovery, the drug was sold as a medicine. Early guides about amyl nitrate listed many other uses for the drug, even relieving seasickness.

Later in the 1960’s, nitro glycerine replaced amyl nitrite as the treatment for angina, and medical demand for poppers decreased. In the meantime, poppers became one of many drugs of choice for GIs during the Vietnam War. They were easy to get hold of, the bottles were light, and they were labeled as an “antidote to gun fumes”. As with most drugs used during the war, soldiers returning to the US took the use of poppers home with them.

What are poppers?

Poppers, or amyl nitrite, is a liquid chemical substance that produces vapors. When those vapors are inhaled, they give you a sense of euphoria. Used mostly as a party drug, poppers are unsafe and cause various side effects that are harmful to your health. This is especially true when the drug is used in excessive amounts or for longer periods of time.

Poppers belong to a class of drugs known as alkyl nitrites. Alkyl nitrites are vasodilators that cause your blood vessels to widen and your blood flow to increase. As your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, the increase in blood flow causes your blood pressure to drop. The widening of your blood vessels also causes smooth muscle tissue throughout your body to relax.

Today, poppers come in small plastic bottles and are commercially sold online and in retail shops. While not illegal to buy or sell in the United States, they’re illegal for human consumption and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the drug. Poppers are often marketed as room deodorizers, leather cleaners, VHS cleaners or nail polish removers.

People who use them recreationally buy them in small bottles. They’re called “poppers” because once the capsule or bottle is popped open, the liquid turns into a gas that you inhale.

You may also hear poppers called:

  • Rush
  • Bold
  • Jungle juice
  • Liquid gold
  • Purple haze
  • Buzz
  • Snappers

Poppers are among several forms of recreational inhalants. Others include nitrous oxide also known as laughing gas as well as “whippets,” a type of nitrous oxide used as a propellant in whipped cream dispensers, and solvents like glue.

What are poppers used for?

In the medical world, amyl nitrite is a vasodilator-a drug that opens your blood vessels. It helps to lower your blood pressure and raises your heart rate.

Doctors may prescribe it to relieve angina. To use this medication, you crush a cloth-covered glass capsule between your thumb and finger, wave it back and forth near your nose, and inhale the vapor one to six times. You may faint or feel dizzy afterward.

In recreational use, people do poppers to feel calm, boost their skin’s sensations, and relax their muscles. The drugs work very quickly. They dilate your blood vessels, sending blood to your brain and boosting your heart rate.

Who is more likely to use poppers?

1.   Trouble at home

If your home is an unhappy place, or was when you were growing up, you might be more likely to have a drug problem. When kids aren’t well cared for, or there are lots of fights, or a parent is using drugs, the chance of addiction goes up.

2.   Mental health problems

People who have untreated mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, or untreated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to become addicted. They might use drugs to try to feel better.

3.   Trouble in school, trouble at work, trouble with making friends

Failures at school or work, or trouble getting along with people, can make life hard. You might use drugs to get your mind off these problems.

4.   Hanging around other people who use drugs

Friends or family members who use drugs might get you into trouble with drugs as well.

5.   Starting drug use when you’re young

When kids or teens use drugs, it affects how their bodies and brains finish growing. Using drugs when you’re young increases your chances of becoming addicted when you’re an adult.

6.   Your biology

Everyone’s bodies react to drugs differently. Some people like the feeling the first time they try a drug and want more. Other people hate how it feels and never try it again. Scientists don’t have a test yet that will predict how each person will react.

Can you get addicted to poppers?

There is no evidence that using poppers leads to physical or psychological addiction. Nonetheless, regular and heavy use may result in a tolerance to the substance, which means you would have to inhale more of the substance to achieve the same high.

Can you overdose on amyl nitrite? Fatal overdoses are rare, but inhaling large doses can lead to unconsciousness, low blood pressure, or cardiovascular problems.

Are poppers dangerous?

Poppers carry a low risk of dependence and addiction, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe to use.

Here’s a closer look at some of the risks that come with using poppers:

  1. Chemical burns: Poppers are highly flammable substances and should be kept away from your skin. If some does get on your skin, you might experience a chemical burn.
  2. Eye damage:There have been reports of people experiencing permanent eye damage after inhaling certain brands of poppers, particularly those containing isopropyl nitrite.
  3. Medicinal interactions: Poppers can interact with other drugs, particularly medications used for erectile dysfunction (ED), such as sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis). Like poppers, these medications cause a drop in blood pressure. Used together, poppers and ED medications can lead to stroke, heart attack, or death. The same goes for blood pressure medications.
  4. Higher risk: Remember, poppers lower your inhibitions. This could cause you to do things you wouldn’t normally do/
  5. Methemoglobinemia: If you swallow poppers or inhale a very large amount of them, there’s a risk of methemoglobinemia, a potentially life threatening condition that occurs when your blood cells contain too much methemoglobin. This makes it harder for your blood to carry oxygen throughout your body, which can have a serious impact on your organs.

Effects of poppers

Poppers work very quickly. They produce an almost instant high or rush of warm sensations and feelings of dizziness. This is similar to sensations of extreme alcohol intoxication. The effects come on very quickly after inhaling the drug; however, unlike drugs such as alcohol, they only last for seconds or a few minutes. While some people find the effects of poppers pleasurable, others find it extremely disorienting and unpleasant.

Poppers are vasodilators, meaning that they dilate the blood vessels. As a result, blood pressure drops rapidly, leading to lightheadedness and sometimes resulting in a brief loss of consciousness and muscle strength, which is known as syncope. At the same time, the heart speeds up, even if the person using poppers is relaxed. This is known as tachycardia.

Side effects of poppers

Despite their legal status, poppers carry many risks. Consuming poppers can cause serious short-term risks, long-term health problems, and organ damage.

Short-term risks

Many hospitalizations and deaths due to poppers have been reported. Short-term risks of using these products include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blood oxygen problems

Sudden sniffing death is a serious risk of using inhalants. Using inhalants like poppers even one time could cause:

  • Choking
  • Asphyxiation
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Fatal injury

Long-term risks

Over time, using poppers can cause long-term health problems like:

  • Red blood cell damage
  • Poor immune system functioning
  • Damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs

Some of the long-term effects of poppers may be reversible, while others could be permanent. However, it is never too late to stop. If you’re struggling to quit poppers on your own, consider getting help.

Can you overdose on poppers?

In 2017 a 22-year-old man suffered from a sudden, fatal cardiac arrest while attending an outdoor music festival in Australia. Witnesses report seeing the man drink liquid amyl nitrite, a type of drug, immediately prior to his death, confirming that poppers can be fatal. Ingesting the substance is typically not how drugs of this type are used, but even when used ‘correctly’ they pose a serious risk to sudden death.

There is also a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, suggesting that popper use can lead to permanent retinal damage. Researchers analyzed 12 men who were treated for vision problems at the Sussex Eye Hospital—all had recently used poppers containing isopropyl nitrate—although the study authors were unable to determine why isopropyl nitrite poppers seemed to be more toxic to the eyes than isobutyl nitrite-based poppers.

Other reported risks associated with popper use include chemical burns around the nose, mouth, and eyes. Popper use can also be dangerous for people who have pre-existing heart conditions that can include an irregular heartbeat or low blood pressure, and “there can be added risks for people with glaucoma or anemia.” When mixed with other drugs that can impact blood pressure, including alcohol, users are at an increased risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

The practice of dipping cigarettes into psychoactive materials is fairly common in some circles, perhaps most commonly with PCP. This is done with poppers sometimes, but without lighting the cigarette. Due to the flammability of alkyl nitrites, this is an extremely dangerous practice for reasons beyond the drug.

Safety tips for using poppers

If you plan on using poppers, these tips can help you minimize some of the risks associated with them:

  • Start slow: Poppers hit fast and hard, so it’s best to start with a small amount.
  • Stick to sniffing: Never swallow poppers or try to ingest them any other way.
  • Skip the cigarette: Some people dip an unlit cigarette into a bottle of poppers and inhale through the filtered end. But poppers are highly flammable, so if you accidentally light that cigarette later, you could seriously burn yourself. It’s also wise to keep poppers away from lighters, candles, and anything else with a flame.
  • One thing at a time: Avoid mixing poppers with ED medications or non prescribed drugs, including alcohol.
  • Keep water handy: You’ll want to avoid getting any liquid on your skin. If this does happen, immediately rinse the area. If it somehow ends in your eyes, flush them immediately with water.

What is drug misuse?

Drug misuse is generally associated with prescription medicines. Prescription medicines are meant to be taken as directed by doctors. This is because these types of drugs can cause adverse side effects if directions are not followed.

Drug misuse happens when these substances are taken for a purpose that is not consistent with legal or medical guidelines. Examples of this include:

  • Taking the incorrect dose
  • Taking the drug at the wrong time
  • Forgetting to take a dose
  • Stopping the use of a drug too soon
  • Taking a drug for reasons other than why they were prescribed
  • Taking a drug that was not prescribed to you

What is drug abuse?

Drug abuse happens when drugs, including alcohol, illicit drugs, or any psychoactive substances, are misused to get high or inflict self-harm. It is also known as substance use disorder (SUD) since people who abuse drugs experience significantly altered thinking, behavior, and body functions.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction, also known as severe SUD, is a brain disorder that manifests as the uncontrollable use of a substance despite its consequences. People with drug addiction have a physical and/or psychological need to take a substance because they suffer intense or debilitating withdrawal symptoms when they go without that substance.

How is drug misuse different from drug abuse?

The key difference between a person who misuses drugs and a person who abuses drugs is their intent. The former takes a drug to treat a specific ailment, whereas the latter uses a drug to elicit certain feelings.

An example of drug misuse is when a person who can’t fall asleep after taking a single sleeping pill takes another pill an hour later hoping that “it’ll do the job.” However, it’s drug abuse when a person consumes sleeping pills to manage their moods or acquire a “buzz,” or  in worst-case scenarios-to commit suicide.

How is drug abuse different from drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a severe form of drug abuse. The distinction between the two disorders lies in how much control the user can exercise over themselves. Since a person who abuses drugs still has control over their life, they don’t experience major disruption in their life.

In contrast, those with an addiction have a disorder that affects most if not all aspects of their lives. They often miss work or school, endanger their families physically and/or financially, suffer health problems, get into legal trouble, and other serious issues because of their substance use. But despite these, they are unable to change their habits to improve their situation. This is why many people with drug addiction become jobless, homeless, or separated from their families. Some even die from their substance use.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What do poppers look like?

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

What do poppers smell or taste 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 consume poppers?

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

Is it dangerous to mix poppers 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.

Who should not use poppers?

Poppers are not safe to consume by anyone. Even young, healthy individuals are at risk for negative short- and long-term effects and death when taking poppers.The dangers outweigh any benefits you may think they have.


Poppers can seem like a safe, cheap, and easy buzz with the ease of access and short-term effects. However, like other psychoactive drugs, they can be harmful. The safest choice is to avoid poppers altogether.