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Are Poppers Illegal Or Harmless?

Updated on November 10, 2014
Images of Poppers
Images of Poppers | Source
A Clubbing Scene
A Clubbing Scene | Source

The 'Need To Know' About Poppers

Regardless of the name given and the reason, ‘poppers’ according to, is the street name for a drug which is made from a class of chemicals, the most popular of which are called alkyl nitrites. These chemicals are used by inhaling and are primarily used as aphrodisiacs. While alkyl nitrite is the more popular type of poppers, there are other variations sold in different countries and even different states, especially as some chemicals are banned or illegal. Among the other chemicals used to produce poppers include cyclohexyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite and butyl nitrite, which is the rarest among the compounds.

The Emergence Of Poppers

According to, Poppers are drugs that were made popular in the clubbing culture dating back from in the 1970s and which continued into the 80s and 90s. However, it is important to note that it was really in the 1990’s rave culture that poppers became more popular.

Amyl Nitrite
Amyl Nitrite | Source

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Homosexuals And Poppers

Poppers were initially made with the intention of treating angina patients, however, despite the initial intent to use it for the purpose of increasing blood flow in patients’ arteries, the homosexual community seemingly found another ‘benefit’ from the drug and subsequently started abusing it; thus being the first documented group to abuse the drug. It soon, however, spread to heterosexuals and others.

It is interesting to note that according to the homosexuals were reported to be the first people to abuse the drug. This was said to be because it increased their sex drive and made them more relaxed to perform sexual acts. Likewise, there were other groups of people who were on the risky side of sexual behaviour and wanted to see if the drug would have similar effects on them. This was also said to be aided by the fact that the drug was rigorously marketed in the underworld.

Fatality Risk

The use of poppers is done by inhalation as it is said to be dangerous to ingest the substance or use in any other form. In fact, any other form of consuming the substance has been reported as being possibly fatal. While some countries have allowed the use of different types of poppers, it is said to cause a headache after inhalation. There have also been reports of damage to the eyes from use of some poppers by some people. This damage includes changes in vision, albeit temporarily, as well as damages to daylight vision or foveal.

Additionally, poppers are said to be discouraged for use with other forms of performance enhancing drugs, to include Cialis, Levitra and Viagra as there have been reports of a tremendous decrease in blood pressure which can lead to fainting, stroke, heart attack or fatality.


Legal And Harmless Versus Illegal And Harmful: The Debate

While the debate continues, there are countries where studies have led to the drug being legal, for the fact that it is touted as being safer that other recreational drugs or alcohol; however, there are countries which classify it as a dangerous drug and some which classify it as a carcinogenic, thereby making it illegal. According to, however, poppers fall in the category of inhalants and all inhalants are harmful, if even for the fact that they can cause you to do something irresponsible that under different circumstances, you would not have done.

Disguised Sale of Poppers

In a bid to disguise the product, while boosting sales, companies in countries where it is illegal have been known to sell the chemical compound as video head cleaners, nail polish removers, room deodorants and other forms of odorizers in which it is used as the main ingredient. Below is a list of some countries and their stance as it relates to poppers.


Legality By Country

  • In the United Kingdom, different laws make different forms of poppers illegal, or if sold to minors. While it is illegal to sell them as advertised for human consumption, poppers are sold there as odorizers, but are nonetheless very popular in gay bars and sex shops, among other common places such as online. While amyl nitrite is regulated as medicine, isobutyl is classified as a dangerous drug.

  • Amyl Nitrite had gone from being a prescription drug in the United States to being classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a non-prescription safe substance, but was reinstated some time later as a prescription drug when the popularity rose. It is however interesting to note that the FDA initially removed the prescription requirement based on the track record for safety which it boasted among its users.
  • In recent years, cycloxehyl nitrite, isopentyl nitrite and isoamyl nitrite have also been marketed in the United States as USA-safe and new or latest formulas. Similarly, the hype has reached the EU for EU-safe formulas and EU-formulas. But this is mostly for the part of keeping ahead of regulators, as well as increasing marketing and advertising strategies.

  • In Canada, it is not illegal to use poppers, however, it is very illegal to sell them; I know. So in essence, this would be one of the countries in which other ways are devised to sell the drug. Some of the devised ways include selling it as odorizer or as nail polish remover and leather cleaner. It might be noteworthy, however, to say that while poppers are seen as drugs in Canada, they are not considered narcotics.

Ethyl Nitrite
Ethyl Nitrite | Source
Party Scene
Party Scene | Source

So as should be clearer now, despite the attempts in different countries to regularize, legalize or criminalize poppers, the face is ever-changing. However, the track record for using the drug seems to be more positive when compared to other substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and other recreational drugs. This argument, however, does not negate the fact that poppers can be dangerous.


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    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 2 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica

      Same here Au fait. I was hearing of it for the first time when I decided to write this hub.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Very interesting. I had never heard of these drugs before. I tend to be pretty conservative where drugs are concerned, prescription or other. I don't really even like vitamins! ;)

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 3 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica

      Oh wow Peachy, which country is that may I ask? It really is interesting to see the different stances taken, depending on the country or region. I have only recently learnt of poppers.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      oh poppers are drugs. Here in our country if any has drug in hand, the person gets life sentence or executed. No mercy.

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 3 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica

      Thanks for stopping by Fire8Storm. That should be the stance we all take, but you know how that goes. I too was surprised. Honestly, i'd never heard of the drug til recently.

    • profile image

      Fire8storm 3 years ago

      Hi Keisha - this is an interesting hub and I am surprised at the different viewpoints taken in different parts of the world. For me, ingesting chemicals that you have no idea what effect they may have, and no control over their effect, is never a good idea.

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 3 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica

      True, likewise, the fact that it is being inhaled suggests that the nostrils are being endangered as well. Its interesting to see the stance some have as opposed to others though.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Legal or not, I think it's best not to mess with inhalants. You replace necessary oxygen with another chemical, and it's easy to suffocate that way. Even inhaling paint thinner can kill you. Surely there are better ways to enjoy yourself than take such unnecessary risks!