It is a well-established fact that inhaling solvents or propellants to get high can lead to severe mental and physical health complications. However, this is not a new trend, and there are currently a variety of chemical-based products being sold as “poppers.” These chemicals are also known as alkyl nitrites, which produce a vapor that can be inhaled and lead to an intense but brief high.
Alkyl nitrites are chemical compounds in a class of substances based on their molecular structure (formally, alkyl esters of nitrous acid). Alkyl nitrites were initially intended for some medical uses, such as relief from chest pain and other symptoms associated with heart disease.
Although they are not commonly used for heart-related issues today, amyl nitrite is still the first-line treatment for cyanide poisoning. However, when referred to by the street term “poppers,” alkyl nitrites are considered only for recreational use.
What Are Poppers?
Poppers are typically sold in small bottles and include popular brand names such as “Ram” and “Thrust.” Popper chemicals dilate blood vessels, leading to a significant decrease in blood pressure accompanied by a “rush” of warmth and dizziness. At the same time, however, a heart exposed to poppers will beat faster.
Poppers are usually inhaled from the bottle in which they are available. Some people prefer to dip a cigarette into the bottle and inhale the chemicals in this way instead. Effects are near-immediate but don’t last for long and wane after just a few minutes.
Today, poppers are often used to enhance sexual experiences. The vasodilatory effects of alkyl nitrites open blood vessels, decreasing blood pressure, and producing relaxation. Another reason some individuals use these drugs during sex is to enhance sensations and intensify climax.
Why Are Poppers Used?
Although some reasons for abusing poppers make some sense, they do not explain why an individual would use such a hazardous substance to improve sexual gratification. Several studies have looked at this topic and revealed a strong association between engaging in sex during drug and alcohol intoxication and sex addiction. This association is more significant among homosexual men, who tend to have an addiction to sex at higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts.
Moreover, an individual may be using poppers at least partly because they have a sex addiction, and are looking to enhance the experience. Fortunately, like other process addictions, sex addiction is very treatable and manageable for those who seek professional help.
Sex addiction is not the only reason why a person chooses to abuse poppers, however. They could be using them as a form of self-medication or to cope with one of the following mental health issues:
- Mood disorders such as depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Anxiety disorders, including social phobia
Of note, it’s also not uncommon for the disorders mentioned above to co-occur with sex addiction.
Are Poppers Addictive?
Poppers are not believed to be as physically addictive as many other intoxicating drugs are. Nonetheless, because these chemicals have psychoactive effects and are often used to heighten sexual pleasure, they have the potential to become habit-forming.
Those who use them in response to a mental health disorder may be more inclined to abuse them more often. This behavior can raise the risk of many adverse effects and psychological dependence.
Harmful Chemicals Used in Poppers
Poppers include different types of alkyl nitrites. Amyl nitrite, a compound originally used to treat angina (chest pain), was the first to receive widespread non-medical use in the 1960s. Other types of alkyl nitrites appeared later following the inception of additional restrictions regarding amyl nitrite use.
Among these newer chemicals are butyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrate, and isopropyl nitrite. Each of these chemicals can be hazardous to one’s health and even prove fatal. They each are also associated with their own group of potentially life-threatening risks.
For example, amyl nitrate has been linked to memory loss, delirium, hallucinations, delusions, and death. If used chronically for a prolonged period, amyl nitrate abuse can lead to the following:
- Brain damage
- Heart disease
- Liver and kidney failure
- Permanent hearing loss
- Slurred speech
Amyl nitrite (not being confused with amyl nitrate) can lead to lethal asphyxiation in the short-term. It can also produce heart and blood vessel issues when used for an extended period.
Butyl nitrite can also result in severe damage to several parts of the body when abused long-term. These include the brain, heart, muscles, blood vessels, liver, and kidneys. Its immediate effects have also been associated with sudden death in severe cases.
A 2016 study revealed that isobutyl nitrite caused neurotoxicity in mice, resulting in impaired motor coordination, memory, and learning. Isopropyl nitrite has also been found to produce visual disturbances, blurred vision, blind spots, and retinal damage, which could be permanent.
Side Effects of Poppers
Poppers can induce a range of effects that may be desirable, hazardous, or both. These effects may include the following:
- A very brief rush-like “high”
- Enhanced sexual experiences
- Chemical burns
- Rash on nose or mouth
- Nose or throat irritation
- General malaise
- Impaired coordination
- Death when consumed orally
The chemicals in poppers can burn the inside of the mouth and throat, leading to nausea, vomiting, and lethal poisoning. Any individual who consumes poppers orally should immediately seek emergency medical help. Using poppers is especially hazardous for those with heart conditions, as death has been known to occur.
The Hazards of Alkyl Nitrate Use
The use of alkyl nitrates or poppers is a very risky activity and can result in the following:
- Perilously low blood pressure
- Damage to red blood cells
- Oxygen deprivation to organs
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Loss of consciousness
- Inhalation of vomit
- Risky sexual behavior and STDs
- Skin burns
- Extreme disorientation
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Temporary/permanent vision loss
- Death related to oral ingestion
Mixing poppers with alcohol can raise the risk of reduced oxygen supply to vital organs and lead to unconsciousness and death. Also, poppers are highly combustible, and there have been many reports of people who unintentionally burned themselves or others.
One of the most frightening potential results of abusing poppers is brain damage. Studies have found that inhalants such as poppers can damage essential brain regions, such as the cerebellum and cerebral cortex. The results of this damage can include personality changes, memory loss, hallucinations, impaired coordination, and slurred speech.
Getting Treatment for Drug Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with alkyl nitrates’ abuse, you are urged to seek professional help. Regardless of whether this abuse occurs along with sex addiction or other mental health conditions, we can help by addressing the symptoms of drug abuse and mental illness simultaneously, allowing people to heal mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer integrated treatment for drug addiction and mental and physical health disorders. Therapeutic services we provide include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Peer group support
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention
- Life skills training
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning