Origins of Poppers As a Recreational Inhalant


Poppers have a history that is mired in misinformation regarding the effects they have on people’s health and psyche. The majority of articles online on the topic of “poppers” are grossly inaccurate and often combined with other studies on drugs or inhalants, which is not correct. Because there were no early authorities on the subject and research on the subject was avoided due to the connection with the gay community, the few articles that did emerge had no scientific foundation. Instead, they were infused with a moralism that did not accept gay culture.

This led to these poorly researched articles becoming the foundation that everyone else began their research with once their actually were serious attempts to examine them. So you need to be aware that you are already stepping into a tunnel of negligent information created by a handful of poorly written articles from decades ago. As with a lot of chemical compounds, poppers history will begin in the medical field and take you on a journey that is webbed in ignorant legislation and tinges of homophobia and angina remedies.

How Did It All Begin?

The French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard synthesized amyl nitrite in 1844. Several years later, a Scottish physician born in the year of amyl nitrite’s first synthesis, Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, started using Antoine Balard’s volatile chemical concoction to assist in treating angina sufferer’s everywhere.

This came about as Brunton was inspired by earlier work with amyl nitrite, conducted by Arthur Gamgee and Benjamin Ward Richardson. Brunton reasoned that the pain and discomfort of angina could be reduced by administering amyl nitrite to open the coronary arteries of patients. Until this rather ingenious discovery, physicians had treated the condition by using leeches to “bleed” the body of impurities.

Amyl Nitrite started out being produced in petite, mesh-covered glass vials, which could be crushed to allow the vapors to be inhaled, leading to the term poppers as that was often the sound associated with the crushing of the vials.

The compound triggered an almost immediate rise in heart rate and a related drop in blood pressure. This chain of reactions causes the smooth muscle tissue found in the human body to relax. While helping ease the pain angina patients went through, it had some other side effects such as cutting the amount of oxygen to the brain which can bring about a manifold of feelings depending on the user’s current mood and attitude towards the substance itself. Although side effects including dizziness, weakness, euphoria and nausea have all been reported from users of alkyl nitrites, none has been considered serious or long lasting.

So Then What’s the Problem with Poppers?

As time went on and the medical field started producing other treatments such as nitro glycerides, amyl nitrite was used less often to treat angina while growing in popularity after the general population learned that it could enhance sexual stimulation.

There is little to no scientific evidence showing that amyl nitrite is a true aphrodisiac but that seems to be the case with most aphrodisiacs anyway. By the 1950s, it had gained a reputation in the British show business industry for enhancing sexual orgasm. Towards the 60’s, amyl nitrite was beginning to catch on with homosexual men in big cities that had thriving gay communities such as New York and San Francisco. This was to be the beginning of a new pleasure drug in the streets of America.

Some say there is a link in the increase of non-medicinal use and the lift on the over the counter ban by the FDA that took place in 1960 but, whatever the reason, poppers were becoming entrenched in the gay culture of the time and will persist for decades to come.

In 1969 though, the FDA reinstated the ban on amyl nitrites for non-prescription use and the evolution of poppers took another turn as a medical student out of California by the name of Clifford Hassing made a little change to the atomic structure of amyl nitrite to create butyl nitrite, which he began selling as room odorizers under the brand Locker Room. In this way, he was able to circumvent the illegality of selling amyl nitrite for human consumption through inhalation without a prescription.

In the 1970’s, the disco scene and other dance venues and popular gay destinations were a common place to see intensive popper use with some reports that discos would go as far as spraying small amounts of the chemical on the dance floor from time to time. This was thought to increase the party mood for everyone involved. While there is no evidence that this actually occurred. The notion certainly adds to the mystique of poppers.

The legal nightlife of isobutyl and butyl nitrite along with a few other variations continue into the 80’s until 1988 when the FDA decided that they needed to intervene, making the production and marketing of isobutyl and butyl nitrite for personal inhalation use illegal. This ban, again was swiftly circumvented when the producers for isobutyl and butyl nitrite started selling their concoctions under the guise of commercial products such as room de-odorizers and solvent cleaners.

In 1990, Congress banned the manufacture and sale of all alkyl nitrites again giving CPSC legal jurisdiction to enforce these laws meaning that butyl nitrite, isopropyl nitrite, and volatile alkyl nitrites are banned hazardous products under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA).

Where Are We Now with It?

If you are a fan of nitrite use or a person who is just curious about the legalities concerning the use of poppers, you may still be scratching your head as to where exactly poppers stand in their own tangled history.

As of now, poppers as sexual stimulant cannot be sold, meaning, if they are marketed with an intent to be used as inhalants for humans, it is not legal. Thanks to the aforementioned bans by the FDA and the control the CDC has on the chemical compounds, no one can sell or even use the banned nitrite structures for pleasure seeking uses.

However, the government does find it okay to sell the exact same compounds as commercial products so it is definitely still legal for you to obtain the compounds known as poppers which, when used against the directions they will have on the label, are poppers in disguise. One which is not fooling anyone yet still remains a legal avenue to purchase.

This sort of grey area legislation has led to many accusations of homophobia towards government officials as no strong evidence has been brought forth regarding prolonged or damaging effects regarding the long term use of amyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrite or butyl nitrite. The FDC states that the ban is for public safety and, like most chemical compounds caught in this void, we may never know until the legislators in charge start looking towards scientific data to formulate an unbiased and, perhaps more importantly, medically correct judgement on the use of “Poppers” for recreational use.

With each ban on the makeup an ingenious entrepreneur will change the atomic structure just a little to bypass these laws with the newest one being formulated in 2002 under the name of cyclohexyl nitrite. For now usage might be mired in legislative confusion but the line on how it got there is clear cut.,4047862&hl=en