Are Poppers a Psychoactive Substance?


According to the respected, modern science has yet to investigate or explain the psychoactive effects of “Poppers”.  The current claim is that this lack of sufficient research is due to the fact that there is very little interest in the area.  Just be sure to tell that to the millions of people who find themselves very intrigued by the subject, including those who are just now hearing about it.

That same source claims that the lack of interest is probably because of the fact that the use of “Poppers” does not create any taxing social unrest, thus preventing the subject of reform from getting the political attention it requires. That said, the claim which states that modern science has not committed the resources to a proper investigation or an explanation is incorrect. In fact, numerous studies have been performed by respected research teams in order to understand the physical, mental, and psychoactive effects of “Poppers,” or alkyl nitrites.

Poppers Research Not Readily Available to Public

The subject is not new, but has been hidden alongside supporting documentation just below the surface of the mainstream gaze for several decades now.  According to the Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD), the first version of the “Popper” was discovered back in 1844 by a remarkable French chemist and became frequently used in medical procedures as soon as the 1860s.  This ultimately gives “Poppers” a nearly 200-year head start to these modern debates over its efficacy and safety.  The issue at hand now, though, seems to be that the current regulatory mandates on “Poppers” are widely viewed as socially unfair and in dire need of reform, but apparently that not enough people are concerned about it – and those who are interested in it are grossly misinformed.

Nitrite Reform Will Happen with an Informed Populace

The first step to nitrite reform comes with the population getting good information about the subject instead of always having to rely on outdated and incorrect data. While some seem to think that legal reform will not come anytime soon due to disinterest, others believe changes are right around the corner.  Either way you look at it, “Poppers” are most likely not getting the deserved attention because of various political agendas and misinformed bigotries rather than because of disinterest.

Contradicting Information is Rampant in the Research & News Articles

In the meantime, antagonists such as claim that “Poppers” are likely unpopular because they are wholly ineffective on a psychoactive level, but in the same article they also claim that an outdated study performed by R.L. Balster back in 1997 showed that there was little scientific evidence to back that up.  In fact, the notes on his report to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) read, “It should be apparent from this review that far lass is known about the neural basis for inhalant abuse than for other forms of drug abuse.”  Balster also reported in his notes that this lack of information stems from a deficiency of interest.

How can one product be both dangerous enough to ban and yet ineffective at the same time?  How can “Poppers” be a 200-year-old favorite but still have too little information and too few people interested enough in it to value a political reform in its favor?  Seeing through the holes that clearly present themselves here is imperative.

Understanding How “Poppers” Work 

You won’t find many official definitions for “Poppers” no matter how hard you search, but Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia do their best to lay it out for curious readers, using the misleading information that’s out there, of course. You must understand the fact that the word “Poppers” is merely a slang term used to describe popular products which utilize compounds belonging to the alkyl nitrite family. Not to be confused with “nitrates,” which are commonly used in fertilizer, nitrites are primarily employed as solvent cleaners – leather cleanser, nail polish remover, room deodorizer, and so on. Nitrites come in many forms: amyl, butyl, cyclohexyl, isopentyl, isobutyl, and isopropyl – all of which are used in some form for medicine or science due to the potency and purity of each compound.

These compounds, especially the ones used called “Poppers,” have a distinct fruity aroma and are gaseous at room temperature.  In early parts of the 20th century, medical professionals declared amyl nitrites as safe for use in the medical field, which then set the precedence for various nitrite compounds to be applied in practice and beyond. More specifically, amyl nitrites have long since been used as a muscle relaxant, a vasodilator, and even as an aphrodisiac. At one point, amyl nitrites could actually be obtained over-the-counter without a prescription, but according to, due to what was perceived as misuse it was eventually reclassified as a drug in 1969 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Effects of Poppers (Nitrites)

“Poppers” are used primarily to increase the heart rate and dilate the blood vessels.  This array of physical side effects is commonly used to further produce a range of pleasurable psychoactive effects including a rush and a feeling of euphoria. As present by NCBI and the Library of Medicine, side effects can range from a number of beneficial sensations such as:

* Increased blood flow to the brain.

* Relaxation of soft muscle tissue

* Relaxation of involuntary muscle tissue (include vagina and anus)

* Warming sensation throughout the body (due to opened capillaries and veins)

* Lightheadedness (due to an increased amount of oxygen-bearing blood entering the brain)

* Increased sensitivity to touch

R.L. Balster’s 1997 study conclusions were clear: there was evidence to suggest that alkyl nitrites bind the neuro-receptors in the brain, thus causing a heightened yet temporary state of sensitivity, relaxation, and euphoria. This suggestion is due evidence showing nitrites being used medicinally for centuries to stimulate the pleasure centers while blocking pain centers of the brain, as highlighted in the book titled, “Pain Management Solutions: Managing Pain in Stages” by Debra S. Cole, Med, LPC.  In short, “Poppers” have the ability to do all those things mentioned above, which means they are fundamentally psychoactive in nature regardless of Balster’s inconclusive findings.

Poppers and Political Reform 

Recently, a bill was passed by Britain’s Parliament which placed a ban on any substance that has a psychoactive effect.  This ban includes alkyl nitrites, or “Poppers.” Still, articles are out there right now which claim that there is not enough evidence to support their psychoactive side effects, nor is there in any interest in doing so.  At the same time, numerous articles and blogs have come out stating facts and opinions to the contrary, such as a piece done by the Gay Star News to name just one example. It is obvious that the world is vastly mislead, misinformed, and misguided on the subject of alkyl nitrites (which some people still call “nitrates”).

Interestingly, other products which have documented psychoactive effects – including alcohol, caffeine, and even nutmeg – are exempt from the ban. “Poppers” advocates want their product to be exempt as well, namely because there are very few reported health risks associated with their use, much like caffeine and nutmeg – although, the same cannot be said about alcohol.

As reported in the Guardian, Nick Clegg, a former Deputy Prime Minister, had something to say on the matter – a subject which reportedly had few people interested.  He stated, “Poppers have been around for decades . . . they don’t pose any great health risk, and that’s why they’ve never been banned before.”  He based his comments on Britain’s Commission charged with studying the psychoactive effects of poppers which determined that, indeed, they are not psychoactive by the legal definition. Clegg then went on to add, “Legitimate businesses that produce ‘Poppers’ should be allowed to continue to operate . . . {because} people who use ‘Poppers’ will be forced to turn to illegal suppliers.”

For now, the powers that be are still taking the nitrites ban exemption under review, according to  The question remains: Are poppers psychoactive and if so, are they harmful enough to be banned? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.