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What’s the score?

Poppers are also known as amyl, butyl, isobutyl nitrite, amyl (especially in Australia, where it’s pronounced ‘ammul’), ‘aromas’, ‘liquid incense’ and by brand names like Liquid Gold and Rush. They’re often wrongly called ‘nitrates’, which are similar, but different, chemicals.

Poppers are a liquid made from chemicals from the alkyl nitrite family. The name comes from the days when they came in glass capsules that popped when broken open. Due to a change in the law which outlawed isobutyl nitrite in 2007, poppers on sale in the UK are now made with isopropyl nitrite.

Taking poppers

When dancing or having sex the fumes are breathed in, either through the nose or mouth or from a poppers-soaked cloth. They should never be swallowed as this can stop the heart and kill.

Highs and lows

Seconds after breathing them in, poppers cause a rush of blood to your head, your heart beats fast and your muscles relax (including the sphincter muscle in your arse hole). For a few minutes you can feel an excited, light-headed feeling. Poppers can be used on the dance floor too, to boost the effects of music and lights. Headaches are the main side effect of the drug. Poppers spilt on the skin causes burns which go in a few days. Wash poppers off with water straight away but get medical help if they get in your eyes.

In some people, poppers cause dizziness or fainting. Some people have reported vision problems with the new forumla poppers sold after 2007 but sight returns to normal if use of poppers stops.

Sex on poppers

Poppers can make you feel horny, lower your inhibitions and make orgasms feel stronger. Because they relax the sphincter poppers can make it easier to be fucked or fisted. They can cause a man to lose his hard-on too.

Research shows poppers might play an important role in HIV being passed on. The reasons could be:

  • There’s a bigger risk of the arse bleeding as poppers expand blood vessels inside the arse.
  • Poppers could make it easier to have rougher anal sex, with more chance of bleeding.
  • Poppers might make the immune system weaker for a short time, so that people are more open to infection, although there’s no definite scientific evidence poppers have a lasting effect on the immune system.

It’s thought the biggest risk of HIV being passed on is when an HIV negative man uses poppers when being fucked without a condom by a man with HIV. For more on the link between poppers and HIV check out www.chapsonline.org.uk/biology

Find out more about drugs and sex here.

A long term relationship?

Poppers aren’t addictive in the way some drugs are but they can be habit-forming and the more you use them the less effect they have. Sensitivity comes back after a few days of not using them.

Poppers with other drugs

Viagra-type drugs  – makers of erection drugs like Viagra warn against using them with poppers, as both lower blood pressure. Poppers are nitrites. Similar drugs (nitrates) are used by people with heart problems. Taking Viagra and similar drugs while on nitrates has killed people by causing a fatal drop in blood pressure. So to be on the safe side, caution is advised with poppers (nitrites) too.

HIV drugs – protease inhibitors push up levels of erection drugs in the body, meaning a bigger risk of a dangerous interaction if poppers are used.

Ecstasyspeed , cocaine or crystal meth– these all put strain on the heart. Taking them with poppers stresses it even more.

Useful to know

  • Because poppers can kill an erection, it’s better to put a condom on before the first hit of poppers.
  • Poppers easily catch fire so should be kept away from naked flames, cigarettes, etc.
  • You should avoid poppers if you’ve got high or low blood pressure, a heart condition or glaucoma (an eye condition).


The law

Possessing poppers is not illegal under UK law. The reason they are sold as a ‘room deodoriser’, ‘leather cleaner’ or ‘tape head cleaner’ is to get round restrictions against selling them as a product to be breathed in.

This article was last reviewed on: 28/10/11
Date due for next review: 28/10/14


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