What YOU need to know about the risks, side effects and latest information on poppers
What are 'poppers'?
'Poppers' is the common name for amyl and butyl nitrates which are chemically related to laughing gas.
Both are clear or yellow, volatile and extremely flammable liquids with a sweet smell when fresh. The smell of these liquids when stale is unpleasant and often described as 'mouldy socks'.
What are you likely to get from sniffing poppers?
Once inhaled (sniffed through the nose), the effects are virtually immediate and last for two to four minutes. There is a 'rush' as blood vessels enlarge, heartbeat quickens and blood rushes to the brain causing a warm, blushing sensation.
Safer sex and drug use
As with other drugs, using poppers may suppress inhibitions and make safer sex more difficult at the time of use. If you use any drug, it is an especially good idea to think ahead. Having condoms with you at all times may help ensure you have them when you need them.
Side effects after short term use ...
Some users report a warm rushing sensation, but others can experience weakness and headaches and sometimes nausea and vomiting. These effects may be increased when poppers are used in combination with other drugs such as alcohol, amphetamines ('speed', 'whizz') or ecstasy ('e').
Side effects after long term use ...
If you are healthy, there appear to be no long term consequences of using poppers. However, some people may develop persistent headaches.
Tolerance to short term side effects does develop within two to three weeks of continual use. If you stop using poppers and then start again after a few days, this tolerance is lost leaving you particularly vulnerable to headaches.
Poppers are dangerous for anyone with a heart condition, high blood pressure and for anyone who is asthmatic. Many people report allergic reactions such as rashes or eczema after frequent use which often disappear when the use of poppers ceases.
The use of poppers with Viagra is particularly dangerous as it can lead to a dramatic fall in blood pressure and may prove fatal.
It is not illegal to possess amyl or butyl nitrates although this could change. The sale of nitrates to a person under the age of 18 is illegal under the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 which prohibits the sale and supply of solvents to a person under the age of 18. It has not yet been used in any legal cases.
For up to date information on the legal position or any other aspect of nitrites (or any other drugs) or information about HIV and AIDS and safer sex, or for free condoms and lubricant, call one of the numbers listed below.
What YOU need to know ...
Poppers dilate the blood vessles in the rectum making them more likely to bleed, so if you're using poppers and fucking, keep it safe.
Free condoms and lube are available from us by post, your local GUM clinic, gay pubs and bars, and many youth projects.
Poppers and HIV
Poppers do appear to have effects on the immune system which should be taken seriously by everyone with HIV infection.
Evidence has shown that some of the infections associated with HIV may be more likely to occur if people use poppers heavily and there may a decrease in levels of blood cells needed to fight infection.
Some studies of people who develop Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), a rare form of skin cancer, have noted that people who have HIV and have used poppers heavily over a long period of time are more likely to develop KS than other people with AIDS.
One study observed some decrease in levels of blood cells needed to fight infection, but more dramatic effects on the natural killer cells. These cells probably play a key role in tumour control and some researchers have suggested that this is the reason why some studies have shown a significantly higher level of KS among users of poppers.