Drugs & Alcohol


What YOU need to know about the risks, side effects and latest information on poppers


What are 'poppers'?

'Poppers' is the common name for amyl and butyl nitrates which are chemically related to laughing gas.

Both are clear, yellow, volatile and extremely flammable liquids with a sweet smell when fresh. The smell of these liquids when stale is unpleasant and often described as 'mouldy socks'.

What are you likely to get from sniffing poppers?

Once inhaled (sniffed through the nose), the effects are virtually immediate and last for two to four minutes. There is a 'rush' as blood vessels enlarge, heartbeat quickens and blood rushes to the brain causing a warm, blushing sensation.

Safer sex and drug use

As with other drugs, using poppers may suppress inhibitions and make safer sex more difficult at the time of use. If you use any drug, it is an especially good idea to think ahead. Having condoms with you at all times may help ensure you have them when you need them.

Side effects after short term use ...

Some users report a warm rushing sensation, but others can experience weakness and headaches and sometimes nausea and vomiting. These effects may be increased when poppers are used in combination with other drugs such as alcohol, amphetamines ('speed', 'whizz') or ecstasy ('e').


Side effects after long term use ...

If you are healthy, there appear to be no long term consequences of using poppers. However, some people may develop persistent headaches. Tolerance to poppers does develop within two to three weeks of continual use, encouraging greater use to get the same effect. But if you stop using poppers for a short period, this tolerance will be lost.


Poppers are dangerous for anyone with a heart condition, high blood pressure and for anyone who is asthmatic. Many people report allergic reactions such as rashes or eczema after frequent use which often disappear when the use of poppers ceases.

The use of poppers with Viagra and other drugs taken for erectile dysfunction is particularly dangerous as it can lead to a dramatic fall in blood pressure and may prove fatal.

The use of poppers during unprotected anal sex more than doubles the risk of seroconversion. The exact reason for this is unknown but may be associated with the dilation of blood vessels or the lowering of inhibitions and rougher sex or a short term direct decreased effect of the immune system. So if you're using poppers and fucking, keep it safer, use condoms.

Free condoms and lube are available from your local sexual health / GUM clinic, gay pubs and bars, and many youth projects.


Legal position

It is not illegal to possess amyl or butyl nitrates although this could change. The sale of nitrates to a person under the age of 18 is illegal under the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 which prohibits the sale and supply of solvents to a person under the age of 18. It has not yet been used in any legal cases.

The UK parliament is currently legislating to ban 'legal highs' in the Psychoactive Substances Bill. This means that as things stand, the supply of poppers will be illegal beginning April 2016. The government says they are looking at whether to exempt poppers from the list of banned drugs but if so this won't happen until later on in the year. We'll keep this page updated with any changes.

This page originally appeared on Healthy Gay Hampshire, part of the now closed HIV Prevention Service for the Hampshire area.