The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog—Poppers: More Risky Than You Think?

Posted on January 7th, 2015 by Sydney in Featured, Youth Blog. No Comments

Disco ball

Aussiegall, “disco ball 1,” October 20, 2014.

What are Poppers?
“Poppers” is a slang term for the recreational drug use of Alkyl Nitrites, also known by the street names Ram, Thrust, Rock Hard, Kix, TNT, and Liquid Gold. They are sold legally in the US to consumers 18 years and older, under their marketed use as “room deodorizers.” The inhalant is most commonly sold in sex and sensuality shops, due to use as a recreational, aphrodisiac-like drug.

What do they do to the body?
The inhalation of Poppers rapidly expands blood vessels, creating an instant head rush lasting an average of two to five minutes. This reaction often makes users feel lags in time, light headed, dizzy, heat flashes, giddiness, a racing heartbeat, and sometimes heightened sensual awareness [1]. It also relaxes the vaginal and anal muscles and therefore is known for use before sex.

It is common for users to experience intense headaches, feel faint or ill, or have low energy immediately after use.

Poppers and the LGBT community

Anal sex can take preparation to relax the receiver’s body. Due to the muscle relaxing side effects of Poppers, it has become stereotyped as a sex drug, especially among gay men. During the 70s and 80s many people who did not identify within the LGBTQ community began to experiment with Poppers, typically within dance club venues, expanding the use of Poppers outside of the gay male community. Today, Poppers are still marketed as sexual enhancers and, as such, can be typically found in sex and sensuality retail shops.

What are the risks?
Medical professionals are finding that the use of Poppers can have more long-term damage than previously understood [1]. For example, recent findings have linked the use of Poppers to damage of the retina, a tissue of the eye, and to blindness among some users [2]. A common chemical substitute in Poppers has been suggested as the reason behind irreversible visual impairment, but the exact cause is still unclear. Side effects of the long-term use of Poppers can be serious impairment to the central nervous system, resulting in muscle spasms, and in severe cases, brain damage [3].

Mixing multiple drugs at one time is dangerous, and this includes drugs that may be prescribed. For example, mixing poppers and Viagra can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Individuals with heart, chest, anemia, glaucoma, or blood pressure problems should always avoid Poppers [4].

Never consume Poppers orally, they are extremely toxic and can kill you if swallowed.

Finally, because Poppers are a liquid inhalant, it is difficult to determine how much of the drug you are using with each inhale. This uncertainty makes the risk of overdosing high. An overdose from Poppers can result in heart failure or the inability for oxygen to reach the lungs, which can cause death [5].

To avoid unnecessary risks with your health, know the facts about Poppers. Pass it on!

If you or someone you know is seeking help with a drug or alcohol addiction, call SAMHSA’s national hotline at 1-800-662-HELP for free, 24/7, confidential information.

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
Interested in participating in research? Find out if you are eligible.
Looking for other ways to help? Show your support by donating to IMPACT.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs of Abuse: Commonly Abused Drugs Charts: Health Effects. Retrieved December 29, 2014, from

[2] Rabin, R. C. (2010). Vision: A Quick High for Sex May Damage Vision. The New York Times, D7 Retrieved December 29, 2014, from

[3] Gruener, A., Jeffries, M., Housseini, Z., Whitefield, L. (2014). Poppers Maculopathy. The Lancet, 384(9954), 1606. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from

[4] Essex Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Service: A Project of The Children’s Society. Children and Young People: Drugs and Alcohol: Poppers. Essex County Council.  Retrieved December 29, 2014, from

{5} Micromedex. Drugs and Supplements: Amyl Nitrate (inhalation Route): Precautions. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 7, 2015, from

Comments are closed.

Latest IMPACT News