A man high on poppers walks out of an event after inhaling the drug

Inhalants have long remained one of the most popular classes of drugs in the United States. For example, inhalants as a whole were the 8th most used recreational drug in 2017. (1) One type of inhalant, known as “poppers”, is making a particularly strong comeback in recent years.

Here we take a look at what poppers are and the dangers of using them.

What are poppers?

A popper is a slang term for a class of psychoactive inhalants known as alkyl nitrites. TheA woman who took poppers experiences the effects in front of her friends most common type of chemical used is amyl nitrate, which is also used legitimately in medicine.

The slang “popper” originated from the popping sound that the glass capsules in which amyl nitrate was originally packaged in would make upon being cracked open.

Amyl nitrite is a volatile liquid at room temperature that is abused by deliberately inhaling its fumes.

Poppers have been for years sold illicitly, or in head shops as “room deodorizers” to skirt laws. (2)

What are the effects of poppers?

Poppers act as vasodilator, which means the effects they cause are due to their ability to expand blood vessels. The effects of poppers come on extremely rapidly and only last for seconds or a few minutes at most.

The following effects are commonly associated with popper use (3):

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure due to vasodilation
  • Warm sensation throughout body
  • Euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Increased heart rate
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What are the unwanted effects of poppers?

Using vasodilators for recreational purposes can lead to several unwanted side effects, such as (3):

  • Headaches due to vasodilation in the brain
  • Respiratory pain due to inhaling volatile chemicals
  • Skin legions around nose and mouth from inhaling
  • Eye pressure due to amyl nitrate causing fluid build up around eyes
  • Allergic reactions

What makes poppers so dangerous?

The short high and ready availability of poppers leads many users to believe they are safe. The reality is poppers have been shown to have many potentially dangerous effects when abused, such as the following:

  • Cases of temporary or permanent vision loss have been tied to popper abuse (4)
  • Neurotoxicity causing impairment of learning and memory has been demonstrated in lab settings (5)
  • Poppers have been shown to cause methemoglobinemia, which is a life-threatening condition (6)
  • A long-term study of popper use found those who abused poppers had an increased chance of catching virus-associated cancers than the general population (7)

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017/NSDUHDetailedTabs2017.htm#tab1-1A
  2. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-poppers-22094
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324000.php
  4. https://bjo.bmj.com/content/101/11/1530
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26971703
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21040486
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5414542/