What are Poppers (Alkyl nitrates)? Are they legal?

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Alkyl nitrates are a group of chemical compounds that are abused for their psychoactive properties. ‘Poppers’ is the street name for these chemical compounds. Poppers are generally found in a volatile liquid form that is used as an inhalant for recreational purposes. These are usually sold in small bottles or glass vials that can be easily carried around and inhaled to provide the user with a brief high. Despite their illegal status, poppers have become one of the popular recreational drugs among youths.

What are poppers?

Poppers are the common slang term used for chemical class alkyl nitrites. These are illegal in most countries and are sold in disguise of leather cleaner, nail polish, videotape cleaner, leather polish, air freshener, etc.

Most of the poppers contain some variation of alkyl nitrites with similar properties. Some of the known forms of alkyl nitrites are:

Poppers became popular in club culture in the seventies and have grown in popularity and addiction rate ever since. It has become a prominent recreational drug in gay culture as well.

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The legality of Poppers in the UK

Although the legality of these substances is inconclusive in most countries, it is illegal to advertise poppers for human consumption in the UK; under Medicines Act 1968. However, it is not entirely illegal to use it. As a result, popper addiction is rising, especially among gay communities where poppers are often used for sexual enhancement. Popper use has also increased among teenagers because of its easy availability. The reason for the easy availability of poppers in the UK is because poppers aren’t regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

It has then being discussed if poppers should be considered an illicit substance or a recreational drug. [1] [2]

Use of poppers

Poppers are generally inhaled through the nose using a small bottle of inhalators. Upon inhaling it creates a euphoric effect. The drug starts to dilate the blood vessels, which then lowers the blood pressure. After several minutes it starts to relax the involuntary muscles. These are the muscles in the abdominal, diaphragm, and cardiac muscles, etc.

These are also known to create a relaxing effect in smooth muscles like the anus and throat. That’s the reason why it is commonly used to enhance sexual intercourse. [3]

Are poppers safe to use?

While the risk of death is relatively lower than other drugs, it can easily react with other substances. As a result, there are plenty of risks that arise from the consumption of poppers. The risk can range from mild to severe. Some potential risks are severe allergy, methemoglobinemia (abnormality in the amount of haemoglobin), low blood pressure, etc. Alkyl nitrites are also considered carcinogens which means it has potential to cause cancer.

Poppers shouldn’t be used if you have:

Do poppers have any medical use?

Yes, amyl nitrites are used as a medication for chest pain relief and angina. However, there are also report of the use for cyanide poisoning. Although the usage of amyl nitrites as medication has decreased, it gained popularity as a recreational drug.

Amyl nitrite was first synthesised in 1844 in France. It was found to have a medical use to treat angina (lack of blood flow in the heart muscle). It was first sold as medication in glass vials for chest pain. Starting in the 1970s, it became more popular as a recreational drug, especially in the gay community. While using, the pop sound of the breaking vial is considered the origin of its name. [4][5]

Effects and side effects of poppers?

The main effect of poppers of alkyl nitrites is on the sphincter muscles found in the anus or vagina and smooth muscles in the body. It dilates the blood vessels, which then result in relaxing effects and an increase in heart rate. Furthermore, it also causes the blood flow to increase, increasing the body temperature and a high sensation.

Even after the initial high, full recovery after poppers abuse can take a couple of days. However, long-term abuse can have permanent damage and can be fatal. Some of the risks of long-term poppers abuse are brain injury, kidney failure, liver damage, severe impact on the immune system, crack in the bone marrow and disbalance in blood. It also has damaging effects on the retinas and can also cause hearing loss.

Some of the effects of poppers on the body are:

Side effects of poppers abuse are as follows:

Mixing poppers with other substances or alcohol

Mixing the alkyl nitrites with other substances can cause various complications and severe damages. In addition, it quickly reacts with other substances with similar validation effects like viagra, Cialis, Levitra, etc.

Some of the complications caused by poppers are extremely low blood pressure, stroke, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. It can also restrain the oxygen supply in the blood and vital organs.

Overdose from popper consumption.

Although inhaling the poppers vapour has less overdose risk than other recreational drugs, swallowing it can cause severe damage. Therefore, the overdose or poisoning of poppers is mainly caused due to swallowing poppers instead of inhaling the vapour.

Swallowing poppers can cause: [6]

Popper addiction

Poppers are considered to be less addictive than most other substances. However, it doesn’t mean they are safe. There have been growing cases of poppers addiction in the UK. There are also plenty of chances of permanent damage. Mixing poppers with other substances or recreational drugs have also caused death in many cases. But, just like any other substance, poppers addiction can be treated if done correctly.

We at Help4addiction provides treatment for all types of addiction. With a full assessment by our in-house professional, we will provide a personalised treatment plan. It generally includes complete medical detoxification followed by intensive rehabilitation.

Medical detox is always done under the supervision of fully trained professionals along with addiction experts. During rehab, you will receive valuable training and therapeutic treatments from world-renowned professionals. It is a lifelong battle and you can’t simply get rid of addiction. However, you will receive tools and techniques to fight cravings and prevent relapse. You will always have support from us, even after the treatment is complete.


Poppers are growing in popularity these years. Even though the chances of dependence is fairly lower, there are countless risks related to poppers addiction. If you find yourself addicted to poppers or any other substance, we’re here for you. You may feel like your addiction doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it does.

Addiction affects all aspects of life, from relationships to, work and overall wellbeing. It should be addressed as soon as possible so that it does not worsen. Therefore, we offer treatment programs based on addiction severity ranging from outpatient therapy sessions to intensive residential rehab programs where someone will live at our facility for an extended period while undergoing treatment and recovery.

Frequently asked questions

No, there is no medical proof about the link between poppers and HIV/AIDS. This myth was popular during HIV/AIDS epidemic when popper was seen mainly as a gay drug.

Yes, you can get addicted to poppers, although the risk of addiction or dependence on poppers is fairly low. Especially in contrast with other illicit substances.

Yes, alkyl nitrites are used for chest pain relief and angina. Poppers are also used to treat cyanide poisoning.

Yes, there are cases of death caused by extreme abuse of poppers in the UK. The risk of death is mainly increased if poppers are used with other substances or alcohol.

Poppers were sold in glass vials while crushing it creates pop sound. Hence, the origin of the name Poppers. Some of the common street names of poppers are Rush, TNT, liquid gold, amyl, stud, etc

Although popularised as a gay drug, poppers have no sexual boundaries. As a result, it is one of the most popular drugs among teenagers and adults of all orientations.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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