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Poppers guarantee a headrush, and often a headache, but what are the risks surrounding amyl and butyl nitrate?

Poppers is the term for the group of chemicals known as alkyl nitrates that include amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite. They come as a clear or straw-coloured liquid in a small bottle or tube (and used to be sold in glass capsules which made a popping noise when opened - leading to the name.) The vapour is inhaled through the mouth or nose.

Poppers are often found within dance and club culture and some believe they heighten the effects of MDMA. They are also used by some people to enhance sexual experiences.

Amyl nitrate is stronger than butyl nitrate. In the UK, butyl is used more than amyl. The drug was initially prescribed as medication for heart conditions such as angina, but is rarely used for this purpose nowadays.

What are the effects of taking poppers?

  • Effects are instantaneous and brief, but intense. These effects are caused by a sudden surge of blood to the heart and brain
  • Light-headedness, giddiness, heat flush or heightened sensual awareness may also result. This is known as a headrush
  • Some users may also experience the impression of time slowing down
  • The effects fade two to five minutes after use
  • Users are often left with a headache.

What are the risks of taking poppers?

  • Side effects of sniffing poppers (especially repeated sniffing) may include headaches, nausea, coughing, dizziness, and in serious instances users may completely pass out
  • Regular use can cause skin problems around the mouth and nose
  • If spilled, poppers can burn the skin
  • Alkyl nitrites reduce blood pressure. This makes it dangerous for people with anaemia, glaucoma, breathing or heart problems
  • Poppers can be fatal if swallowed.

The law and poppers:

Amyl nitrite can only be issued by pharmacies under the Medicines Act. Possession is legal, but supply can be an offence.

Other terms for poppers:

Liquid gold, high-tech, rave, rush, ram, thrust, locker room, snappers, hardware, rock hard, kix and TNT.

If you're planning on taking poppers:

  • The effects on blood pressure and vascular flow may be dangerous to pregnant women. Nitrates can cross the placenta.
  • Mixing Viagra with alkyl nitrites is very dangerous as the combination could cause your blood pressure to drop dangerously low. It can cause dizziness, fainting and heart problems, not to mention the possibility of coma, brain damage and possibly even death.

Updated: 01/06/2011

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