People often ask, “What are poppers?” and “Are poppers a drug?”
First, let’s define the word drug. The Google dictionary defines “drug” as: “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”
If we use the definition, then yes, poppers are a drug, but using the same definition, so is caffeine in your coffee or soda, tobacco, alcohol, or aspirin. Being a drug doesn’t automatically make something dangerous or illegal. Poppers are legal when used as labelled, i.e. as a cleaner. It is not legal to sell poppers for consumption by inhalation. By the way, you should NEVER drink poppers! And, like any drug, the use of poppers comes with risks so it is important to know what to look out for and what to avoid.
Poppers are made primarily from a class of chemicals known as alkyl nitrites. Originally, amyl nitrate poppers were common, as a prescription medication, but they were removed from the market when better medications for the heart condition known as angina were found. Today, isobutyl nitrite is the most common compound found in the solvent cleaners sold as poppers
When a person is exposed to poppers, most commonly when cleaning items in a space that is not well ventilated which results in the fumes being inhaled, the involuntary smooth muscles of the body relax which results in increased blood flow. This increased blood flow reduces blood pressure which can make you temporarily dizzy as well as making you feel flushed in the face. People find the sensation relaxing and pleasant, and since it relaxes muscles in the throat, vagina, and anus, it has been discovered that it makes certain sexual practices easier and more pleasant.
As far as negative side effects or risks are concerned, we have to tell you that there is a very small risk of death if you were to swallow a bottle of poppers. But this is a very rare risk with only 23 popper related deaths reported between 1971 and 2009. That said, anyone with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PDD) must NEVER use poppers because the risk of death is much higher. This is a rare condition and if you have it you will have known so since you were a child as it is a genetic illness, not one that develops later in life.
In very rare cases there have been reports of impaired or lost vision but these effects were temporary and resolved on their own once the use of poppers was stopped. These concerns have only been reported from Europe and the popper formulas used there are different from those used in the United States so it is unlikely that similar issues would occur in the US.
Certain medications, especially those for erectile dysfunction and some blood pressure medications, can interact in a bad way with poppers so if you use these medications don’t use poppers until you have first talked to your doctor or pharmacist about whether it is safe to do so.
Poppers can cause chemical burns if the come into contact with the skin and are not immediately washed off. When cleaning with solvent cleaners of this type you should always wear gloves.
Also poppers are very flammable. Be very careful around open flames and smoking material. There have been reports of people soaking cigarettes in poppers and then smoking them to get the effect of poppers but this practice can be very dangerous. If you insist on doing this, and we don’t recommend it, be extremely careful as some people have been burned when doing this.
All that scary stuff said the most common side effect of popper use is a roaring headache. Some people are more prone to this problem than others. In our experience headaches occur most likely with old poppers that should be replaced.
So, poppers have some risks but using common sense and guidance from experts like ourselves will allow you to use poppers, for the legitimate and legal uses only of course, with little to no risk to yourself or others.