Poppers give you a headrush… and sometimes a headache. But what is amyl and butyl nitrite? And is it dangerous to shove them up your nose?

Hand holding a bottle of poppers

Poppers come in little plastic or glass bottles

What are poppers?

They’re a group of liquid chemicals known as alkyl nitrites that come in loud neon bottles. When you sniff them, they release a whiff of vapour that dilates all your blood vessels. In ye olden days they used to come in glass bottles that ‘popped’ when you opened them, thus the name poppers.

How do you take poppers?

Most people untwist the bottle and take a small sniff from the top. Some dip the tip of a cigarette into the bottle and inhale that.

Why do people take poppers?

  • You get a huge rush of blood to the head – like you’re hanging upside down or something.
  • If you’re having sex, it increases all the good feelings; every touch feels much nicer than normal.
  • If you fancy a bit of anal sex, poppers loosens up your bumhole muscles.
  • You might feel light-headed, giddy, or just really hot.
  • Some people feel like time has slowed down.

What are the bad side effects of poppers?

  • It’s pretty darn certain you’ll get a horrid headache straight after.
  • You may feel dizzy, sick, and can even faint.
  • If you’re a bloke, it may stop you getting or maintaining a decent hard-on.
  • It can give you a sore throat and make your eyes hurt.
  • If you get any on your skin, it can give you a nasty rash.

How long do the effects of poppers last?

Not long, they’re a bit fast and furious. The headrush usually lasts between two to five minutes.

Are poppers dangerous?

There have been some reports of people dying suddenly of ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ after having poppers. And it’s potentially fatal for anyone with heart and blood pressure issues to take them.

Can I take poppers with Viagra?

We can see the appeal – enhanced sexual feelings combined with a raging insatiable boner – but please don’t mix the two. It can make your blood pressure drop dangerously low, resulting in dizziness, fainting, heart problems and potentially a coma and/or death.

Can you drink and take poppers?

Mixing them with alcohol isn’t a good idea as it reduces the amount of oxygen getting to your vital organs.

How can I reduce the risks if I take poppers?

  • Whatever you do, DON’T SWALLOW THEM. You will die.
  • Don’t use them near a naked flame. They’re really bloody flammable.
  • Don’t take poppers if you have anaemia, glaucoma, or heart or breathing problems. It messes with your blood pressure and can be fatal.
  • Don’t take them if you’re pregnant because nitrates affect the placenta of your baby.
  • If they make you horny, please do use a condom.

Are poppers legal in the UK?

Yes, they are legal to possess. However, they’re covered by the Medicines Misuse Act, so it’s illegal to sell them for human consumption.

Photo of popper bottle by Chris

Next Steps

  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. 0800 77 66 00
  • Release offers free and confidential advice on everything to do with drugs and drugs law. 0845 4500 215
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015