The Freddie Guide to: Poppers

3 min read
Freddie Team

Poppers can be found in bedrooms and on dancefloors across the world. But what exactly are they, and how do they work? Here's everything you need to know!

What are poppers?

Poppers are a liquid chemical that comes in a small bottle. The scientific name for them is “alkyl nitrites” – this is a group of chemicals that includes amyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, pentyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite. Poppers usually contain one of these as their main ingredient.

How to use poppers

Poppers are an inhalant, which means – unsurprisingly! – that you inhale them. People take poppers by placing the bottle under their nose and sniffing the fumes. All you need is a few seconds under one nostril. Some people will do one, others will do both. It's up to you!

Some people will dip a cigarette into the liquid and then inhale through the filter while it’s still unlit. We don’t recommend this because poppers are extremely flammable. If you forget which cigarette you dipped and accidentally light it later, this could cause a dangerous accident.

What are the effects?

The effects of poppers kick in right away and last a few minutes. Poppers are a vasodilator, which means they open your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure. This causes a head rush and dizziness, along with feelings of euphoria and lowered inhibitions. In a nutshell, it can make you horny – which is why it’s often used during sex. Poppers also relax your muscles, so they can make bottoming more comfortable.

Where did they come from?

Poppers were originally used to treat angina (chest pain), starting in the 1860s. They were sold in small glass vials that patients would “pop” to release the fumes. Hence the name! By the 1970s, queer people had discovered that poppers could be used recreationally, and they quickly spread through dancefloors, bathhouses and bedrooms. They’ve been synonymous with queer parties and pleasure ever since.

Are poppers safe?

Risks with poppers are generally low compared to other recreational drugs. However, there are a few side effects and interactions to watch out for.

Poppers are very flammable, so keep them away from cigarettes, candles and other open flames. Side effects of the poppers high can include headache, nausea, dizziness and vision problems. Repeated or prolonged use can cause a rash or dryness around the nose, but this usually clears up once you stop. 

The liquid in poppers is a nasty chemical, so it shouldn’t go on or in you. If it gets on your skin it can cause chemical burns, and if it gets in your eyes it can cause vision damage or even blindness. It might be tempting to grab your bottle and take a hit during sex, but it’s safer to stop first to avoid spills or splashes.

Swallowing poppers can cause serious injury and death. Some people mistake the bottles for small energy drinks – if you or your partner ingest the liquid, call 911 immediately.

Mixing poppers with stimulants like coke or meth can put strain on your heart and increase the risk of cardiovascular side effects. If you are going to use recreational drugs (including alcohol), it is best to avoid mixing them.

Poppers should never be mixed with erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra or Cialis.

This can cause a potentially lethal drop in blood pressure. You should also avoid poppers if you are on blood pressure medications or have a heart condition.

Are poppers legal?

Poppers are illegal to sell in Canada. They are not illegal to buy or possess – so you won’t be arrested for having them – but you’d have to find a black market retailer. 

In the US, poppers can legally be bought or sold but not for recreational use. This is why they’re sold with names like “room odorizer” or “VHS cleaner”. 

In recent years, countries like France, the UK and Australia have all reviewed the legal status of poppers and chosen to relax legislation or keep poppers semi-legal. In the UK, for example, they can be sold but not advertised for human consumption. 

Remember: No flames, no spills and no blue pills. Have fun!

Using poppers?

Prevent HIV with PrEP! Most pay $0

Book now