Saturday, August 18, 2007

Poppers (alkyl nitrites): Brief History, Law

What is poppers?

This is a group of quick-acting drugs (alkyl nitrites), of which amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite are the most widely available. Poppers evaporate at room temperature and are inhaled. They're stimulants but the "rush" lasts minutes, hence the name "poppers".

Know the street names

Drugs have many different street names and some of them sound similar. If you tried to sniff Liquid X (GHB) instead of Liquid Gold (poppers) not much would happen. But if you swallowed poppers when you wanted GHB, it could be fatal.

Poppers dangers

You may be able to find poppers in a joke shop, but they're no joke. They're not addictive, but the effects can be pretty unpleasant. Apart from fainting, nausea and headaches, users can suffer other problems.

  • Because alkyl nitrites speed up heart-rate and lower blood pressure they're dangerous for anyone with a heart or blood-pressure condition.
  • Regular use can lead to skin problems around the nose and mouth.
  • Nitrites are caustic, which means they'll burn skin if spilt.
  • Inhaling vapors increases the pressure on your eyeball so is very dangerous if you suffer from an eye condition, such as glaucoma.
  • Increased sexual arousal and decreased sexual inhibitions are a dangerous combination - you're more likely to have casual sex, so be aware of the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Small bottles, or occasionally glass vials, of clear gold-coloured liquid that's inhaled from the bottle or from a cloth soaked in it. Fresh poppers smell sweet and fruity, but the stale chemical smells like old socks.

The poppers effect

The effects from inhaling poppers are instantaneous, but very short lived. There may be:

  • a burst of energy, and a rushing sensation, because the heart starts beating faster
  • a feeling of light-headedness after the initial rush because blood pressure is reduced. This can lead to dizziness, loss of balance and even fainting
  • a sense that time has slowed down
  • a lowering of sexual inhibition, and possibly a feeling of being sexually aroused.

What you won't like

  • Fainting is never a good move. You'll not only feel foolish coming round, but you may also injure yourself when you fall.
  • You may also feel very sick and have a thumping headache - if you're in a club, you probably won't feel like dancing.


  • DON'T keep taking more hits - you'll just feel worse and increase your chances of nasty effects with every hit.
  • DON'T use poppers with other drugs - you're just creating bad effects.
  • DON'T mix poppers with alcohol - you're even more likely to collapse or have a potentially disastrous sexual encounter.

The Law

Alkyl nitrites are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, amyl nitrite is a controlled medicine, which means possession without a prescription is illegal, as is supply.

If something goes wrong

If nitrites burn your skin, run cold water over the area for about 20 minutes.

If your friend has swallowed poppers, call an ambulance. If she's conscious, give her frequent sips of cold water or milk. Don't try to make her sick.

If your friend feels faint, take him somewhere quiet and lay him down with his feet in the air. Give him some cola to drink (nothing else is as good). Don't let him stand up too quickly.

  • If your friend is breathing, place her in the recovery position. Call an ambulance. Tell the medical staff what your friend has taken - it could save her life. Be prepared to resuscitate your friend if she stops breathing.
  • If your friend vomits while unconscious, check that she's still breathing.

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