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AKA: amyl, butyl, isobutyl nitrite, aromas, liquid incense, room deodoriser

Brand names: Liquid Gold, Rush

  1. The basics
  2. Highs and lows
  3. Taking poppers
  4. Poppers with other drugs
  5. Useful to know
  6. Poppers and the law

The basics

Poppers are liquids made from chemicals from the alkyl nitrite family. They’re often wrongly called ‘nitrates’ – which are similar, but different, chemicals.

The name comes from the days when they came in glass capsules that popped when broken open.

Due to a change in the law which outlawed isobutyl nitrite in 2007, poppers on sale in the UK are now made with isopropyl nitrite.

How they’re used

When dancing or having sex the fumes are breathed in, either through the nose or mouth or from a poppers-soaked cloth.

Poppers should never be swallowed as this can stop the heart and kill.

Highs and lows of poppers


Seconds after breathing in the fumes, poppers cause a rush of blood to your head, your heart starts beating faster and your muscles relax (including the sphincter muscle in your arsehole).

For a few minutes you’ll feel excited and light-headed.

Poppers can be used on the dancefloor too, to boost the effects of music and lights.


Headaches are the main side effect of the drug.

Poppers spilt on the skin cause burns which go in a few days. Wash spilt poppers off with water straight away, but get medical help if it gets in your eyes.

In some people, poppers cause dizziness or fainting.

Some people have reported vision problems with the new formula poppers sold after 2007, with reports of long-lasting damage to the retina.

Taking poppers

Sex on poppers

Poppers can make you feel horny, lower your inhibitions and make orgasms feel stronger.

Because they relax the sphincter, poppers can make it easier to be fucked or fisted. They can cause you to lose your hard-on too.

Research shows poppers might play an important role in HIV being passed on. The reasons could be:

  • There’s a bigger risk of the arse bleeding as poppers expand blood vessels inside the arse.
  • Poppers could make it easier to have rougher anal sex, with more chance of bleeding.
  • Poppers might make the immune system weaker for a short time, so that people are more open to infection, although there’s no definite scientific evidence poppers have a lasting effect on the immune system.
  • It’s thought the risk of HIV being passed on is doubled when an HIV negative man uses poppers when being fucked without a condom by a man with HIV.

Read more about drugs and sex ››

A long-term relationship?

Poppers aren’t addictive in the way some drugs are, but they can be habit-forming and the more you use them the less effect they have. Sensitivity comes back after a few days of not using them.

Poppers with other drugs

Viagra-type drugs

Makers of erection drugs such as Viagra warn against using them with poppers, as both lower blood pressure, so they should not be used at the same time.

Poppers are nitrites. Similar drugs (nitrates) are used by people with heart problems. Taking Viagra and similar drugs while on nitrates has killed people by causing a fatal drop in blood pressure.

HIV drugs

Protease inhibitors push up levels of erection drugs in the body, meaning a bigger risk of a dangerous interaction if poppers are used. Never mix Viagra with poppers if you’re on HIV medication.

MDMA (ecstasy), speed, cocaine or crystal meth

These all put strain on the heart. Taking them with poppers stresses it even more.

Useful to know:

Because poppers can kill a hard-on, it’s better to put a condom on before the first hit.

Poppers can easily catch fire so keep it away from naked flames, cigarettes, etc.

You should avoid poppers if you’ve got:

  • high or low blood pressure
  • a heart condition
  • glaucoma (an eye condition).

The law

Possessing poppers was not illegal under UK law at the time this page was published. They are not included in the Psychoactive Substances Act of May 2016.

The reason they’re sold as a ‘room deodoriser’, ‘leather cleaner’ or ‘tape head cleaner’ is to get round restrictions against selling them as a product to be inhaled.

Next drug: Alcohol ››

‹‹ Previous drug: Viagra

Published: 20/08/2018
Next review: 20/08/2021