Alkyl Nitrites (Poppers)


Alkyl Nitrites are chemical substances used recreationally for a high -- usually during sexual activity. The prescription medication, amyl nitrite, can be used for chest pain. Alkyl Nitrites are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and are not safe to ingest or inhale. When used recreationally, nitrites are generally inhaled and referred to as “poppers.” Poppers are marketed and packaged in ways that make them seem safe -- often in small bottles that look like energy drinks, and sometimes including a word like “rush” in the name. 



Poppers produce a rush of warm sensations and feelings of dizziness. The effects can be felt almost immediately and dissipate within seconds or minutes. Poppers are vasodilators, which are substances that open blood vessels. Vasodilators can reduce your blood pressure and increase heart rate.

While poppers are not only used recreationally during sex, one side effect of poppers is the relaxation of the anal sphincter. For this reason, they are often used to prepare for or facilitate receiving anal sex (i.e., bottoming).

In some cases, the effects can be extremely mild; in other cases, however, serious and dangerous side effects may occur, such as:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Extreme drops in blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Decrease in blood oxygen levels
  • Seizures
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Skin damage
  • Coma


Special Considerations

As poppers are often taken during sexual activity, it is worth noting that poppers should not be used while taking other vasodilators, such as drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction (e.g., Viagra, Cialis, etc.). Doing so can cause extreme drops in blood pressure and life-threatening cardiac events.


Treatment and Adverse Effects

If you are concerned with your or your friend’s use of poppers, you can call (530) 752-6334 or log in to Health-e-messaging to schedule an appointment with SHCS’ Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Intervention Services Coordinator. There is no charge for the confidential appointment. 

If you are having a serious side effect from poppers, or are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room (Sutter Health in Davis). Reporting options for an adverse event can be found at the links below.




Information adapted from Food & Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health