We often get questions from our users about terms and trends in the community. One such term is “poppers.” Poppers are chemicals sometimes used during sex and formally called alkyl nitrites. They are sold in small bottles as liquid which turns into a gas once the bottle is opened.
Inhaling poppers opens up your blood vessels, which drops your blood pressure and causes your heart rate to speed up. This can make you feel lightheaded or make your body feel warm very quickly. Effects can last a few seconds or up to a few minutes. For some people, poppers can cause a headache or general dizziness.
Poppers are not illegal to consume in most countries, but they do represent a potential health hazard if ingested the wrong way, similar to alcohol. Everyone reacts differently to poppers and not all poppers affect the same person the same way every time they use them. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation recommends: “If you have never used poppers before, try inhaling for a shorter amount of time and gradually increasing the amount of time you breathe in the fumes."
Because poppers decrease your blood pressure, using them with other substances, including prescription medications, can cause problems. If you are taking prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction, using poppers at the same time can drop your blood pressure to dangerous levels. Other illicit drugs, like ecstasy, speed, and meth, can put additional strain on your heart if you use them with poppers. You can also get superficial chemical burns around your nose and mouth if the liquid in the bottle spills out.
Poppers can also lower your inhibitions during sex. Make sure you and your partners have agreed ahead of time on how you want to use poppers and what safer sex practices you will take, including talking about your HIV and STI status and/or using condoms. We invite you to contact your health care professional with any questions about substances and your general well being.
More information about poppers can be found here.