Popper is a slang term given broadly to drugs of the chemical class called alkyl nitrites that are inhaled. Most widely sold products include the original isoamyl nitrite or isopentyl nitrite, and isopropyl nitrite. Isobutyl nitrite was also used until it was banned by the European Union. In some countries, to evade anti-drug laws, poppers are labelled or packaged as room deodorizers, leather polish, or tape head cleaner.
Popper use has a relaxation effect on involuntary smooth muscles, such as those in the throat and anus. It is used for practical purposes to facilitate anal sex by increasing blood flow and relaxing sphincter muscles, initially within the gay community.
"If you trace the bottle of amyl (a type of alkyl nitrite) through late 20th century history, you trace the legacies of gay culture on popular culture in the 20th century”
The drug is also used for recreational drug purposes, typically for the "high" or "rush" that the drug can create.
The French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard synthesized amyl nitrite in 1844. Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, a Scottish physician born in the year of amyl nitrite's first synthesis, documented its clinical use to treat angina pectoris in 1867 when patients experiencing chest pains would experience complete relief after inhalation. Brunton was inspired by earlier work with the same agent, performed by Arthur Gamgee and Benjamin Ward Richardson. Brunton reasoned that the angina sufferer's pain and discomfort could be reduced by administering amyl nitrite—to dilate the coronary arteries of patients, thus improving blood flow to the heart muscle.
Amyl nitrites were originally enclosed in a glass mesh called "pearls". The usual administration of these pearls was done by crushing them between the fingers; this was followed up by a popping sound. This administration process seems to be the origin of the slang term "poppers". It was then administered by direct inhalation of the vapours or inhalation through silk that covered the capsule. Brunton found that amyl nitrites had effects of dilating blood vessels and flushing of the face. Butyl nitrites were also documented around the late 1890s by Brunton and despite being found to have generally the same effects of amyl nitrites, they were never used as a clinical alternative to amyl nitrates. Brunton also found that propyl nitrites had the same effects as well.
20th-century presence in 1960s disco and 1970s gay culture
Although amyl nitrite is known for its practical therapeutic applications, the first documented case of recreational use was in 1964 during the disco era. The poppers "craze" began in the early 1970s in the LGBT community in gay bars, discothèques and bathhouses, marking its prominent presence in gay culture. It was packaged and sold pharmaceutically in fragile glass ampoules wrapped in cloth sleeves which, when crushed or "popped" in the fingers, released the amyl nitrite for inhalation. Hence the colloquialism poppers. The term extended to the drug in any form as well as to other drugs with similar effects, e.g. butyl nitrite which is packaged under a variety of trade names in small bottles.
In the late 1970s Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal reported that popper use among homosexual men began as a way to enhance sexual pleasure, but "quickly spread to avant-garde heterosexuals". A series of interviews conducted in the late 1970s revealed a wide spectrum of users.
Poppers contain a class of chemicals called alkyl nitrites. To the extent that poppers products contain alkyl nitrites, the following applies.
The following table summarizes alkyl nitrite chemical and physical properties, including chemical structure:
|Alkyl nitrite||CAS||Formula||Molecular weight (g·mol−1)||Physical state||Boiling point (°C)|
|Amyl nitrite (isoamyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite)||110-46-3||(CH3)2CH(CH2)2ONO||117.15||Transparent liquid||97–99|
|Pentyl nitrite (n-pentyl nitrite)||463-04-7||CH3(CH2)4ONO||117.15||Yellow liquid||104|
|Butyl nitrite (n-butyl nitrite)||544-16-1||CH3(CH2)3ONO||103.12||Oily liquid||78.2|
|Isobutyl nitrite (2-methylpropyl nitrite)||542-56-3||(CH3)2CHCH2ONO||103.12||Colourless liquid||67|
|Isopropyl nitrite (2-propyl nitrite)||541-42-4||(CH3)2CHONO||89.09||Clear pale yellow oil||39|
Administration and effects
Poppers are inhaled. This is typically done through the nasal cavities, commonly directly from the bottle or by the help of small inhalators.
Inhaling nitrites relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, as well as sphincter muscles of the anus and the vagina. Smooth muscle surrounds the body's blood vessels and when relaxed causes these vessels to dilate resulting in an immediate increase in heart rate and blood flow throughout the body, producing a sensation of heat and excitement that usually lasts for a couple of minutes. When these vessels dilate, a further result is an immediate decrease in blood pressure.
Alkyl nitrites interact with other vasodilators, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis), to cause a serious decrease in blood pressure, which can cause strokes, and low blood pressure leading to fainting.. Side effects of popper abuse includes tachycardia, headaches, migraines, dizziness and fainting.
The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy reports insignificant hazard associated with inhalation of alkyl nitrites, and British governmental guidance on the relative harmfulness of alkyl nitrites places them among the less harmful of recreational drugs.
Swallowing poppers (rather than inhaling the vapour) may cause cyanosis, unconsciousness, coma, and complications leading to death. Methemoglobinemia can occur if poppers have been swallowed.[full citation needed] Accidental aspiration of amyl or butyl nitrites may cause lipoid pneumonia.
Isopropyl nitrite poppers may be a cause of maculopathy (eye damage), as reported in France and the United Kingdom. Some studies have concluded that there may be increased risk for at least temporary retinal damage with habitual popper use in certain users; in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine,[full citation needed] an ophthalmologist described four cases in which recreational users of poppers suffered temporary changes in vision.[full citation needed] Foveal (center-of-gaze) damage has also been described, in six habitual users of poppers.
In June 2014, optometrists and ophthalmologists reported having noticed an increase in vision loss in chronic popper users in the United Kingdom associated with isopropyl nitrite (substitute for isobutyl nitrite which was banned in 2007). In November 2014, it was observed maculopathy is a rare complication of isopropyl nitrite abuse. A full recovery of visual acuity in longterm abuse could be demonstrated after drug abstinence.
Early in the AIDS crisis, widespread use of poppers among AIDS patients led to the later disproved hypothesis that poppers contributed to the development of Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in AIDS patients. Modest, short-term reductions in immune function were observed in animal studies.
Amyl nitrites were part of some kits used to treat cyanide poisoning, containing amyl nitrite, sodium nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate. The nitrites were administered to produce methemoglobin and induce vasodilation. Amyl nitrites were discontinued in 2012 in standard cyanide kits. Cyanide kits now use hydroxocobalamin.
Poppers are legal in Australia, and from 2020, poppers can be purchased as a schedule 3 substance from pharmacies, or a schedule 4 substance with a prescription.
History of poppers legislation in Australia
In June 2018, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) motioned to reschedule alkyl nitrites to be in the same category as heroin and cocaine (Schedule 9). This was met by criticism from the LGBTIQ community for being discriminatory and further evidence was demanded and further consultation sought.
In October 2018, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) pointed out the lack of quality evidence provided by the TGA to justify the rescheduling and that use of amyl nitrites has been stable over the past decade with very little evidence of harm despite use by a high proportion of gay men over a long period of time.
A final decision was pushed back from November 29, 2018 to late January or early February 2019 for further consultation with the public.
As of March 2019, two public meetings have taken place in Sydney and Melbourne with The Kirby Institute and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS). Along with 70 written public proposals, there was significant opposition to alkyl nitrites rescheduling. Banning alkyl nitrites was not considered acceptable as their use was said to help reduce harms such as anal injury and blood-borne disease transmission during anal sex.
In June 2019 Australia decided not to ban poppers.
In France, the sale of products containing butyl nitrite has been prohibited since 1990 on grounds of danger to consumers. In 2007, the government extended this prohibition to all alkyl nitrites that were not authorized for sale as drugs. After litigation by sex shop owners, this extension was quashed by the Council of State on the grounds that the government had failed to justify such a blanket prohibition: according to the court, the risks cited, concerning rare accidents often following abnormal usage, rather justified compulsory warnings on the packaging.
The possession in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is not subject to any regulations regarding anesthetic drugs and is therefore legal; however, the purchase, sale or trade of amyl nitrite without permission violates the drug laws of the corresponding countries. Occasionally, poppers were seized from sex shops, when sold there illegally.
In the United Kingdom, poppers are sold in nightclubs, bars, sex shops, drug paraphernalia head shops, over the Internet, and in markets. It is illegal under Medicines Act 1968 to sell them advertised for human consumption. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs noted in 2011 that poppers, rather than being psychoactive substance or 'legal high', "appear to fall within the scope of The Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985". The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, scheduled to be enacted April 1, 2016, was initially claimed to impose a blanket ban on the production, import and distribution of all poppers. On January 20, 2016 a motion to exempt poppers (alkyl nitrites) from this legislation was defeated. This was opposed by Conservative MP Ben Howlett. Howlett's fellow Conservative MP Crispin Blunt declared that he has used and currently uses poppers. Manufacturers expressed concern over loss of business and potential unemployment. In March 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated that, because alkyl nitrites do not directly stimulate or depress the central nervous system, poppers do not fall within the scope of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.
In the US, amyl nitrite was originally marketed as a prescription drug in 1937 and remained so until 1960, when the Food and Drug Administration removed the prescription requirement due to its safety record. This requirement was reinstated in 1969, after observation of an increase in recreational use. There was a huge increase in the number of brands for butyl nitrites after the FDA put in the prescription requirement again in 1969.
Butyl nitrites were outlawed in 1988 by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. This prompted distributors to sell other alkyl nitrites not yet banned, like isopropyl nitrites. In 1990, isopropyl nitrites and other nitrites not yet banned were outlawed by the Crime Control Act of 1990. Both of these laws include an exception for commercial purpose, defined as any use other than for the production of consumer products containing volatile alkyl nitrites meant for inhaling or otherwise introducing volatile alkyl nitrites into the human body for euphoric or physical effects.
- Zhao P, Tang S, Wang C, Zhang Y, Best J, Tangthanasup TM, et al. (20 January 2017). "Recreational Drug Use among Chinese MSM and Transgender Individuals: Results from a National Online Cross-Sectional Study". PLOS ONE. 12 (1): e0170024. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1270024Z. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0170024. PMC 5249205. PMID 28107391.
- Schmidt AJ, Bourne A, Weatherburn P, Reid D, Marcus U, Hickson F (December 2016). "Illicit drug use among gay and bisexual men in 44 cities: Findings from the European MSM Internet Survey (EMIS)". The International Journal on Drug Policy. 38: 4–12. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.09.007. PMID 27788450.
- "Sex and Poppers". SexInfo Online. 28 November 2017.
- "How gay culture bottled a formula that has broken down boundaries". The Independent. 22 January 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
- "Nitrites". Drugscope. Archived from the original on 5 April 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2007.
- Nickerson, Mark (1979). Isobutyl nitrite and related compounds. Pharmex. OCLC 4790673.[page needed]
- Fischer J, Ganellin CR (2006). "Chapter 10 : Development of Organic Nitrates for Coronary Heart Disease". Analogue-based Drug Discovery. United States: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 247, 248. ISBN 978-3-527-60749-5.
- Fye, W B (August 1986). "T. Lauder Brunton and amyl nitrite: a Victorian vasodilator". Circulation. 74 (2): 222–229. doi:10.1161/01.cir.74.2.222. PMID 3524895.
- Newell, GR; Spitz, MR; Wilson, MB (1988). "Nitrite inhalants: historical perspective". NIDA Research Monograph. 83: 1–14. PMID 3140018. Also published as: Newell, Guy R.; Spitz, Margaret R.; Wilson, Michael B. (1988). "Nitrite Inhalants: Historical Perspective". In Haverkos, Harry W.; Dougherty, John A. (eds.). Health Hazards of Nitrite Inhalants. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse. pp. 1–14. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.152.4015. OCLC 18456297.
- Brunton, Thomas Lauder (1898). Lectures on the Action of Medicines: Being the Course of Lectures on Pharmacology and Therapeutics Delivered at St. Bartholomew's Hospital During the Summer Session of 1896. Macmillan. pp. 332–339.
Brunton, T.L Lectures on the actions of medicines.
- Lubell, I. Correspondence with Burroughs Wellcome Co., 1964, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 1967.
- "How gay culture bottled a formula that has broken down boundaries". The Independent. 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
- Israelstam S, Lambert S, Oki G (November 1978). "Poppers, a new recreational drug craze". Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal. 23 (7): 493–5. doi:10.1177/070674377802300711. PMID 709498.
- French R, Power R (1998-01-01). "A Qualitative Study of the Social Contextual Use of Alkyl Nitrites (Poppers) among Targeted Groups". Journal of Drug Issues. 28 (1): 57–76. doi:10.1177/002204269802800104. ISSN 0022-0426.
- "Rushing to a new high". Time. 17 July 1978. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
- Sansweet, Stephen J. (10 October 1977). "wall street journal - A new way to glow and giggle, and get a headache. "Poppers, legally sniffable, becoming a big business; The FDA isn't interested". Wall Street Journal October 10, 1977 Stephen J. Sansweet. Retrieved 10 October 2016 – via http://virusmythpoppersmyth.org/.[permanent dead link]
- Sutton (1963)[full citation needed]
- "Amyl Nitrite". Medsafe. New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority. 18 May 2000. Archived from the original on 11 November 2006. Retrieved 15 March 2007.
- "Amyl Nitrite (Professional Patient Advice) - Drugs.com". drugs.com. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
- "ADF - Drug Facts - Amyl Nitrite". ADF - Alcohol & Drug Foundation. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
- Iversen, Les (16 March 2016). "ACMD review of alkyl nitrites ("poppers")" (PDF). gov.uk. www.gov.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
- Harte C, Meston C (June 2011). "Recreational Use of Erectile Dysfunction Medications in Undergraduate Men in the United States: Characteristics and Associated Risk Factors". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 40 (3): 597–606. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9619-y. PMC 2909482. PMID 20358273.
- Wood, Ronald W. (1989). "The acute toxicity of nitrite inhalants". Nida Research Monograph. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 83: 28–29. hdl:1802/1150. PMID 3140020.
- O'Malley GF, O'Malley R (January 2016). "Volatile Nitrites". In Porter, Robert S., et al. (eds.). The Merck Manual Online. Merck & Co. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
- Nutt D, King LA, Saulsbury W, Blakemore C (March 2007). "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse". Lancet. 369 (9566): 1047–53. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60464-4. PMID 17382831.
- Dixon DS, Reisch RF, Santinga PH (July 1981). "Fatal methemoglobinemia resulting from ingestion of isobutyl nitrite, a "room odorizer" widely used for recreational purposes". Journal of Forensic Sciences. 26 (3): 587–93. doi:10.1520/JFS11404J. PMID 7252472.
- Pruijm MT, de Meijer PH (December 2002). "[Methemoglobinemia due to ingestion of isobutyl nitrite ('poppers')]". Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde. 146 (49): 2370–3. PMID 12510403.
- Stalnikowicz R, Amitai Y, Bentur Y (2004). "Aphrodisiac drug-induced hemolysis". Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology. 42 (3): 313–6. doi:10.1081/clt-120037435. PMID 15362601.
- Emergency Medicine: Principles and Practice. Harper & Collins, 2nd edition. 2008. pp. 42–51.[full citation needed]
- Hagan IG, Burney K (July–August 2007). "Radiology of recreational drug abuse". Radiographics. 27 (4): 919–40. doi:10.1148/rg.274065103. PMID 17620459.
- Davies AJ, Kelly SP, Bhatt PR (June 2012). "'Poppers maculopathy'--an emerging ophthalmic reaction to recreational substance abuse". Eye (correspondence). 26 (6): 888. doi:10.1038/eye.2012.37. PMC 3376285. PMID 22402700.
- "A quick high for sex may damage vision". Vision. The New York Times.[full citation needed]
- Audo, Isabelle; El Sanharawi, Mohamed; Vignal-Clermont, Catherine; Villa, Antoine; Morin, Annie; Conrath, John; Fompeydie, Dominique; Sahel, Jose´-Alain; Gocho-Nakashima, Kiyoko; Goureau, Olivier; Paques, Michel (13 June 2011). "Foveal Damage in Habitual Poppers Users". Archives of Ophthalmology. 129 (6): 703–708. doi:10.1001/archophthalmol.2011.6. PMID 21320953.
- Storr, Krystnell (8 July 2014). "More evidence 'poppers' may damage eyesight". Reuters Health.
- Gruener AM, Jeffries MA, El Housseini Z, Whitefield L (November 2014). "Poppers maculopathy". Lancet. 384 (9954): 1606. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60887-4. PMID 24954683.
- Pahlitzsch M, Mai C, Joussen AM, Bergholz R (2016). "Poppers Maculopathy: Complete Restitution of Macular Changes in OCT after Drug Abstinence". Seminars in Ophthalmology. 31 (5): 479–84. doi:10.3109/08820538.2014.962175. PMID 25398125.
- Duesberg P, Koehnlein C, Rasnick D (June 2003). "The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, anti-viral chemotherapy and malnutrition". Journal of Biosciences. 28 (4): 383–412. doi:10.1007/BF02705115. PMID 12799487.
- Schechter MT, Craib KJ, Gelmon KA, Montaner JS, Le TN, O'Shaughnessy MV (March 1993). "HIV-1 and the aetiology of AIDS". Lancet. 341 (8846): 658–9. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)90421-c. PMID 8095571.
- Romanelli F, Smith KM, Thornton AC, Pomeroy C (January 2004). "Poppers: epidemiology and clinical management of inhaled nitrite abuse". Pharmacotherapy. 24 (1): 69–78. doi:10.1592/phco.22.214.171.124801. PMID 14740789.
- James JS (April 1999). "Poppers: large cancer increase and immune suppression in animal tests". AIDS Treatment News (317): 1–2. PMID 11366993.
- Johnson, W. S.; Hall, A. H.; Rumack, B. H. (July 1989). "Cyanide poisoning successfully treated without 'therapeutic methemoglobin levels'". The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 7 (4): 437–440. doi:10.1016/0735-6757(89)90057-0. ISSN 0735-6757. PMID 2567600.
- Marraffa, Jeanna M.; Cohen, Victor; Howland, Mary Ann (2012-02-01). "Antidotes for toxicological emergencies: A practical review". American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. 69 (3): 199–212. doi:10.2146/ajhp110014. ISSN 1079-2082. PMID 22261941.
- "cyanide antidote kit (sodium thiosulfate, sodium nitrite, & amyl nitrite) dosing, indications, interactions, adverse effects, and more". reference.medscape.com. Archived from the original on 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
- Research, Center for Drug Evaluation and (2019-08-14). "Products Approved for Chemical Emergencies". FDA.
- Butler, Gavin (7 June 2019). "You'll Soon Be Allowed to Buy Amyl in Australian Pharmacies—But There's A Catch". Vice.
- Administration, Australian Government Department of Health Therapeutic Goods (7 June 2018). "Consultation: Proposed amendments to the Poisons Standard being referred to the June 2018 meetings of the ACCS, ACMS and Joint ACCS/ACMS". Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- "LGBTIQ Health Experts Slam Proposed Government Ban On Poppers". QNews. 18 October 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- "Submission to the Publication of interim decision proposing to amend, or not amend, the current Poisons Standard, September 2018" (PDF). Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
- Administration, Australian Government Department of Health Therapeutic Goods (22 November 2018). "Further public consultation on appropriate access and safety controls (Poisons Standard schedule) for alkyl nitrites". Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- Butler, Gavin (25 April 2019). "It Looks Like the Australian Government Probably Won't Ban Amyl". Vice.
- Administration, Australian Government Department of Health Therapeutic Goods (2019-03-07). "Public meeting communique: Regulatory options for appropriate access and safety controls for alkyl nitrites". Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Retrieved 2019-05-23.
- Badge, Joshua (10 June 2019). "Australia's decision not to ban poppers is a win for sensible drug policy, but the stigma remains". The Guardian.
- "Directive 2005/90/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council". Official Journal of the European Union. 18 January 2006.
- "Decree 90–274 of 26 March 1990" (in French). Legifrance.gouv.fr. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- "Decree 2007-1636 of 20 November 2007" (in French). Legifrance.gouv.fr. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- "Conseil d'État, 10ème et 9ème sous-sections réunies, 15/05/2009, 312449, Publié au recueil Lebon". Legifrance.gouv.fr (in French). 15 May 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
- "Sexdroge Poppers: Zur Ekstase geschnüffelt". news.de (in German).
- ""Poppers" sichergestellt. Polizei entdeckt 400 Flaschen des Schnüffelstoffs in Sex-Shop". Die Welt (in German). 8 December 2005.
- "Consideration of the Novel Psychoactive Substances ('Legal Highs')" (PDF). Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. pp. 52–54.
- "publications.parliament.uk" (PDF). Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 20 January 2016 (pt 0003)". parliament.uk. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
- Sutcliffe, Robert. "UK's biggest poppers manufacturer vows to fight legal high ban on product he's made for 35 years". Mirror.
- Tayag, Yasmin. "The UK is at war with synthetic drugs and brain boosters are in the crossfire".
- "The Government thought it had banned Poppers but actually accidentally didn't". The Independent. 2016-03-16. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
- "Poppers sold across Canada pose serious risks". www.healthycanadians.gc.ca. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
- "15 U.S. Code § 2057a - Banning of butyl nitrite". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
- "15 U.S. Code § 2057b - Banning of isopropal nitrite and other nitrites". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
- Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (Public Law 1QO-690, section 2404) (15 U.S.C. 2d57a(e)(2)).