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Poppers: Understanding this Form of Inhalant Abuse

Poppers are dangerous, addictive ... and legal. Their long-term effects can be damaging, and the drug can seriously injure. Learn more in our blog.

Poppers: Understanding this Form of Inhalant Abuse

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 13, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

Video head cleaner. Room deodorizer. Leather polisher.

These are all labels "poppers" have been sold under. "Poppers" itself is a slang term for alkyl nitrites, a class of chemicals often used recreationally as muscle relaxants and party drugs. These drugs are used by inhaling the fumes for the effects they produce. Poppers have been used recreationally for decades.

Inhalant abuse is an often misunderstood yet common form of drug abuse. Many household products emit fumes that can produce effects similar to other addictive drugs when inhaled. As most of these products aren’t intended for human consumption, inhalant abuse is an extremely dangerous form of substance abuse.

Addiction is defined as a chronic disorder that affects brain functioning and creates a physical dependence on the drug. Drugs have various categories, affecting the user's health differently. Some are more potent and addictive than others, but they all negatively impact the user's health. Whether they are synthetic or naturally derived drugs, all of them have addictive natures, and they, ultimately, create dependence on drugs.

The complexity of drug substances can be recognized by looking at the types and varieties that are becoming increasingly accessible and available to the common people. All narcotic substances can be classified under seven broad categories. These categories are:

Inhalants produce chemical vapors that the user inhales. Various chemicals can be classified under inhalants: glue, gasoline, computer duster, and more. 

By the Numbers

In the United States of America, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health report that over 2.2 million people above 12 have used inhalants. Similarly, around 335,000 people aged 12 and above have been diagnosed with Inhalants Use Disorder.

It can be hard to find information on inhalant abuse, particularly with poppers. Let's look into this form of drug abuse.

What Are Poppers?

Poppers are inhalants belonging to the drug class alkyl nitrites, particularly amyl nitrite. Poppers is a slang term for the psychoactive drugs that the user inhales. The street name drug poppers include jungle juice, buzz, rush, liquid gold, purple haze, room deodorizer, and more. You must have noticed these small bottles if you have ever been to raves or college parties. These bottles are often marked as room deodorants or aromas, VHS cleaners, leather cleaners, nail polish removers, and other products.

One of the most popular types of poppers is amyl nitrite. Unfortunately, this inhalant is often confused with another chemical known as amyl nitrate because of spelling mistakes. Poppers belong to the alkyl nitrites class of drugs that are known for causing the broadening of the blood vessels. Alkyl Nitrites are vasodilators that increase the blood flow and widen the blood vessels. In the past, they were given as medication to patients suffering from heart-related problems such as angina.

This is because alkyl nitrites do not let the heart do all the hard work. Due to that, there is an increase in blood flow which causes the blood pressure to drop automatically. It also helps in smoothing and relaxing the muscle tissues in the body. 

By the 1970s, poppers became a recreational drug and a club drug for the LGTBQIA+ community. This is because poppers are mostly used during sexual activities as it helps to relax muscles. In today's time, poppers are generally available in retail shops in small bottle forms. Even though there is no restriction on the buying and selling of the drug, it is illegal to consume. Poppers are banned for human consumption and are not regulated by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

The illegal status of this drug is because of the negative health effect it can have on the users. Firstly, if swallowed by anyone, it can have fatal results, and secondly, inhaling poppers can lead to complex side effects. Poppers are a chemical liquid that produces vapors, and when these vapors are inhaled, the user will experience euphoria, relaxation, sexual enhancement, increased skin contact sensation, and overall calmness. All the initial effects may look harmless, but after a long time of usage, poppers can have severe side effects.

Are Poppers Addictive?

Even though the initial purpose of poppers was to manage heart conditions, it is not why it is used today. They are sexual enhancers that are often sold at sex shops and are primarily used for recreational purposes. Poppers are quite cheap and can be easily accessed by people. Even after having significant risks, people still indulge in them to enhance chemsex, aka "party and play."

The most common way of using poppers is by holding the popper's bottle below the nose and taking a whiff from it. One of the initial warning signs of using is that this chemical is highly acidic and, if held too close to the skin, can cause lesions and burns. There are various potential risks involved with using poppers. It is quite ironic that even though this drug is used as a medication prescription for ED or erectile dysfunction, it's risky to use them regularly or even occasionally.

Various research and scientific studies show that poppers are not traditionally addictive but can easily overdose on them. But this does not mean it cannot develop tolerance among the user. With heavy and regular use, there is a strong possibility that a user will develop a tolerance for poppers. This means that the user will have to take more doses of the drug to achieve the same effect they used to experience. 

Some signs of popper overdose:

  • Weakened or fast breathing

  • Extreme dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Heaviness in head

  • Sudden fatigue

  • Blue fingertips, palms, and lips

What are the Common Effects of Poppers?

As mentioned poppers are vasodilators, which dilate the blood vessels. Poppers have a very polarising effect on people, which means that either people love the sensation produced by the drug or find it unpleasant.

After using this vasodilator, the user's blood pressure drops very quickly. This leads to lightheadedness and even loss of consciousness. There are cases where some people have experienced the loss of muscle strength too, which is a condition known as syncope. A person can also experience another health issue known as tachycardia. Tachycardia is a condition in which the heart rate speeds up.

In general, a person who uses poppers generally feels a rush. This warm sensation is pretty similar to the aftereffects of alcohol intoxication. Although the effect only lasts for a minute or so, a group of people may feel extremely disoriented and disassociated after using them. 

Poppers can be fatal if swallowed. Despite that, there are other dangerous ways people use poppers. For example, some people pour the popper liquid into their soda bottles. After shaking it, bubbles will rise at the top. People then inhale the vapor produced by the bubbles. Similarly, others soak up their sock with the drug and inhale the vapor by touching their nose and mouth. This is extremely dangerous. Even though using the popper ideally is very harmful, consuming them by these methods is even more fatal.

It is vital to remember that poppers drug is a highly acidic chemical, and if you touch it anywhere near your skin, there is a big possibility that you will experience burns over your mouth and nose. This can even lead to death. 

Common side effects of poppers:

  • There is a big possibility that the user will have skin irritation and rashes

  • A person can get brain damage after continuously using the drug

  • The user can experience a negative impact on their cognitive abilities

  • Heavy use can lead to hearing, vision, and motor coordination-related problems

  • A few studies have also linked poppers abuse with a blood-related disorder called methemoglobinemia (MetHb)

  • Some short-term health issues include dizziness, headache, low blood pressure, blood oxygen problems, higher body temperature, low blood pressure, choking, fatal injury, asphyxiation, coma, and more.

  • Long-term risks include a poor immune system, red blood cell damage, and more

  • Users have also reported a few deaths from popper inhalation

There is a strong possibility that by taking regular doses, the user's body becomes physically dependent on it. This means that they undergo serious withdrawal effects if they try to stop the drugs. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and if not handled properly, can turn fatal too. 

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How to Avoid Poppers

Most people use poppers to enhance their sexual experience, and the way to avoid using these drugs is to find a natural way to improve your sexual life. Below are how people can find a healthy alternative to poppers. 

  • Talk to a Doctor: Instead of self-medicating and using methods like poppers to enhance your sex life, it is always better to ask doctors' opinions. They will provide you with safe medication that is neither addictive nor harmful. 

  • Stress Reliever: Poppers are known for relaxing muscles and loosening up muscles—the natural alternative for finding an outlet for stress in engineering in sports, exercise, and meditation. 

  • Also, avoid, or at least lighten up on, alcohol: It is always healthy and safe to avoid drinking alcohol, but this is even more pertinent in this case. Alcohol can cause various ED and other venereal diseases. 

  • Therapy: Another healthy way to cope with such issues is couples therapy. It is not only a safer but more comprehensive form of treatment. In addition, therapies will help you understand the problem's root cause instead of superficially dealing with it. 

Treatment & Recovery of Popper Addiction

Even though poppers are not addictive in a traditional sense, one can have a similar effect after continuously using them. So, if you are still under suspicion whether you have poppers-related problems or not, seek help from a drug rehab center.

Drug rehab center staff will help you determine how serious your addiction is, and what forms of treatment will benefit it. Treatment often starts with drug detox. This is a process where chemicals like alkyl nitrite are allowed to leave your body in a safe, comfortable, and controlled manner. Inpatient drug rehab is the best follow-up step, allowing for continued close monitoring along with the first steps of recovery.

Finally, outpatient drug rehab allows you to practice returning to ordinary life while participating in recovery. There's no better way to build a happy, drug-free life.

Put Poppers in your Past with The Edge Treatment Center

Addiction is unlike all other chronic health disorders. Substance use disorder (SUD) needs comprehensive treatment instead of self-medication. It cannot even be managed by just withdrawing from the substance. One can only hope to seek treatment with the help of professional intervention.

The Edge Treatment Center will help you live a life without poppers, alcohol, or other drugs. The leading outpatient drug rehab in the US, we'll help you realize you don't need drugs to have fun. Offering a dedicated LGBTQIA+ process group, our outpatient drug rehab will help you build a life without addiction.

Contact The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more.

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