Poppers are a well-known, legal aroma used by many bi and gay men during sex, but are they safe to use?

Poppers are a well-known, legal aroma used by many bi and gay men during sex, but are they safe to use?

Are poppers safe to use?
Are poppers safe to use?

Poppers have a long history in the lives of gay men. They are often used during sex and when inhaled can create a head rush, like a “high”.

They are known to enhance sexual experiences and some believe they make anal sex easier. When you inhale, the chemicals in poppers dilate your blood vessels – which allows more blood to flow to your heart. This is why your face may turn red and your heart thumps a little harder when you take poppers. The effects are short-term, although the headache might last a little longer!

How do you take poppers?

How do you do take poppers?
How do you do take poppers?

Poppers come in small glass bottles, usually brown with bright wrapping. They are sold as room aromas, and the idea is that you leave the cap off the top and let the aroma permeate the room. However, many people inhale directly from the bottle.

What are poppers made of?

The ingredients of poppers have changed over time, they used to be made of amyl nitrate. However today, they are made from alkyl nitrites. Specific alkyl nitrites include butyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite and amyl nitrite.

What does it look like?

Most poppers come in a small bottle, which is sealed and has a child-proof cap. The bottle is usually covered with a bright, colourful plastic brand wrap.

They are dangerous, potentially lethal if swallowed.

Are they safe?

Poppers are generally safe to use, although they can cause death if swallowed. Also, people who have heart problems should stay away from using them – especially when combined with other medications, such as viagra. They can cause a person’s blood pressure to drop incredibly low.

If you mixed poppers with other drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, MDNA the oxygen supply to your vital organs might be affected, which could cause a coma or even death.

The chemicals are irritating and will cause chemical burns if you get it on the skin. It can cause a rash around the nostrils.

After inhaling many people also talk about a banging headache, although it shouldn’t last long.

In 2014 optometrists warned about vision loss in those who habitually use poppers. There have been reports of temporary and permanent vision loss. It is referred to as “poppers maculopathy”. If you experience any issues with your eyesight you should seek medical advice.

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Poppers are also highly flammable.

Sexual health risk?

risks of taking poppers
Are there risks to your health by taking poppers?

Poppers can cause a person to undertake sexual activity that might be risky. Getting carried away in the moment, means that users could try to go further than they otherwise might – for instance, try rougher anal sex, fisting or double penetration.

GMFA warns, “As poppers expand your blood vessels inside the arse, the chance of anal bleeding increases and makes it easier for HIV to enter the bloodstream. Poppers can also influence you to have rougher sex, like fisting, which also increases the chance of bleeding.”

Are they legal?

Yes, poppers made from alkyl nitrite (Isopropyl Nitrite) is legal to buy (not for human consumption) however, amyl nitrite is a controlled substance under the Medicines Act 1968. Poppers made from Butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite have been illegal for a number of years. Website TalkToFrank reveals, “Poppers are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but amyl nitrite is regulated under the Medicines Act 1968 and there have been cases where the Medicines Act was used to fine shops for selling poppers. Poppers are also covered by general consumer protection legislation. Possession is not illegal but supply can be an offence.”

There was a worry for some gay and bisexual men in the UK that poppers would have been made illegal in the new Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. In the end, however, poppers were left off the list of substances. Speaking to THEGAYUK.com Lord Paddick, said, “The way that the law is written, it’s any substance that changes your mental state like making you feel happy.

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“So suppliers of air fresher for example and potentially florists could be arrested because the scent given off by roses makes people feel romantic, makes them feel better.

“By the strict definition of the law they are supplying a substance which when inhaled through sniffing changes your mental state, that’s how ridiculous this law is.”


** We corrected the right chemical which is legal in the UK.

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