Poppers and the Media: The Facts About Poppers Online


Discussion about poppers online and in the media often presents confusing and contradictory information. What is the basis of this media confusion?

  • Some of this confusion is based on the fact that most of the public and writers do not have direct experience with the products, and only report on what they believe or have heard.
  • Another cause of misrepresentation of the facts is that the science of alkyl nitrites is complicated and confusing.
  • A third problem is the reliability of the information is often slanted to meet the political aims of the writer.
  • Also, emotion tends to dictate the position taken.
  • Finally, government actions pertaining to alkyl nitrites and poppers have been often contradictory and misleading.

Critical consideration of the facts is hard to achieve but essential for poppers to get a fair shake in the public eye.

Lack of Actual Experience or Firsthand Knowledge of Poppers Use

Some of this confusion is based on the fact that most of the public and writers do not have direct experience with the products, and only report on what they believe or have heard. A review of web searches shows that information that comes up is in two main categories: articles condemning the evil effects; or articles that are essentially ads to sell “popper” with links to companies that sell them.

A recent e-search for “harmful effects of inhaling poppers” generated 13 such hits in the two categories, and that was only on page one of the results. This confusion may also be attributed to the fact that searches do not generate “poppers” specific research on effects and dangers. Most research looks at broad categories of chemicals that can have toxic fumes.

Also, many new formulations are isobutyl nitrites, but not amyl nitrates. There is a good reason for that, mostly that amyl nitrate is a misnomer for the original compound used for poppers when they originated in the 1970’s. That compound amyl nitrite, with an “i” was listed as a controlled substance in the late 70’s, preventing its use for anything but a cardiac vasodilator without a prescription from a doctor. Uninformed and naïve reporters and media folks got the story wrong and mispronounced the name, an unfortunate accident that stuck! Even people who are market the products and appear to be advocating for their sale and use get their vowels mixed up. So confusion reigns in the streets. The use of the term nitrate is so commonly misused it actually ranks higher as a keyword.

The Science of Alkyl Nitrites Is Complicated and Confusing

Another cause of media’s misrepresentation of the facts is that the science of alkyl nitrites is complicated and confusing. Throughout the debate over the years, information presented has been contradictory. It would appear that a frequent motivator has been to restrict the use of poppers because they are seen to cause pleasure. The injustice of this position is seen in the permissive attitude taken toward tobacco and alcohol which have clearly proven devastating impact on peoples’ health!

There has been much hysteria suggesting that the poppers rush causes significant health issues. The evidence just does not support that claim. For instance, Merck & Co., Inc. in their study Where patients come first. Volatile Nitrites (poppers), states, ” There is little evidence of significant hazard, although nitrites and nitrates produce vasodilation, with brief hypotension, dizziness, and flushing, followed by reflex tachycardia.” (Copyright © 1995-2006 Merck & Co., Inc.) In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, July 1983 stated in Briefing Package on Petition HP82-1, ‘”Available injury data did not indicate a significant risk of personal injury or illness from room odorizer abuse.”‘

And across the pond, THE INDEPENDENT, London, England, in Drugs: the Real Deal” reiterated, “’Poppers pose little potential for harm to health or society.” This seems to be further compounded by the lack of direct research on “poppers” as inhalants and confusion with other volatile compounds. Despite these findings, the regulations were passed to ban the use as a controlled substance. Interestingly, now England’s House of Commons is directing a more detailed analysis of the impact of use, after banning it through passage of the Psychoactive Substances Bill, effective April 1. They have acknowledged that the information presented in favor of the ban was incomplete.

Information Is Often Slanted to Meet the Political Aims of the Writer

The reliability of the information is often slanted to meet the political aims of the writer. It really appears that editorial slant dictates how, or in what bias or scientific depth, the information is presented. If the intent is to denigrate the use of poppers as inhalants for a popper rush, the writer conveniently leaves out moderating detail. Supporters often leave out negative information, and even place advertisements for purchasing poppers online on the same pages or through links.

One instance where the writer takes a quantum leap away from the actual direct impact from popper use question can be found at here where the moderator, answers the question about poppers being harmful by diverting his answer to, “My answer is yes. Inhaling poppers can damage your health. And, recent studies show that guys who use poppers are more likely to take sexual risks, especially anal sex without condoms. Studies also show popper users are more likely to get an STD.” This clearly makes huge assumptions based on Dr. Dick’s perspective, but does not address direct heath issues. A supporter of the use is a little more balanced. The author states “…poppers are about as safe as a substance can get.

A ranking study of recreational drugs for harmfulness, ordered by the British government and reported by The Independent Newspaper in 2006, concluded that, “poppers pose little harm to individuals or to society when compared to other recreational drugs. According to a study published in The Lancet a year later (2007), poppers ranked 19th out of 20 for dependency risk and “physical harm” (alcohol came 10th and marijuana 11th).” He then in a non-biased way lists “do” and “don’t” suggestions as well as some side effects. Biases are also impacted by emotional charged issues.

Emotion Tends to Dictate the Editorial Position Taken

Clearly, emotion tends to dictate the position taken and editorial slant. Most of these online presences are not serving anyone but their own short term and narrow-minded interests. This is often seen in blogs, posts and other documents that result from an online search where controlling interests manage the facts and details for their own gain, or out of ignorance of the facts. The search referred to above lead to many hits touting headlines about harmful effects including death. Not one actually documented the number of deaths directly attributable to inhaling poppers. They do allude to, but do not document deaths by inhaling while they do mention death by ingesting. Point! You would not inject paint, gasoline or turpentine, now would you?

The website www.thesite.org refers to “sudden sniffing death syndrome” SSDS as do others. They say, “in some cases, users have died from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), pneumonia, cardiac failure or arrest. (” Inhalants-Facts and Statistics Greater Dallas Council on alcohol & Drug Abuse). When you drill down, the sudden death is more commonly attributed to inhaling floro-carbons and butane -type gases and linked with model airplane glue, nail polish remover, cleaning fluids, hair spray, gasoline, the propellant in aerosol whipped creams, spray paint, fabric protector, air conditioner fluid (Freon), cooking spray and correction fluid: but NOT Poppers. The article cites stats about the percent of those who died from SSDS, but never identifies the number of actual deaths. They raise the alarm, but cannot defend the claims.

Government Actions Have Been Often Contradictory and Misleading

Finally, government actions pertaining to alkyl nitrites and poppers have been often contradictory and misleading. Through its history in the U.S. legislature, more evidence has been presented that use of alkyl nitrites does not cause lasting physical effects or damage. That did not prevent the government from imposing inhibitions. This impacted the history of the original amyl nitrite formula when popper use for inhalants was initiated. For political and perhaps social reasons targeted at the primarily gay population and Vietnam veterans using the products at the time, the FDA classified amyl nitrite as a controlled substance and banned it for use other than commercial or medical with a prescription. At the insistence of the manufacturers? Inaccurate reporting branded this compound as amyl nitrate and the name has stuck ever since, confusing everyone, including the internet search engines. A Wikipedia search uncovered an interesting discussion about separating discussion about “Poppers” and “nitrites” because of fear of contaminating the message. It does present an interesting discussion about whether poppers are a drug:

A compound is only a ‘drug’ if the FDA or similar agency has jurisdiction over it. Otherwise it’s classified as a consumer product. For example a common correction fluid such as Wite-Out®, which is misused as an inhalant (a drug use), is not a drug. It is a consumer product. Inhaling it is a misuse and is contrary to labeling instructions (another FDA criteria). …. So poppers technically are not drugs. Except, of course, amyl nitrite, which is an approved drug. (Wikipedia search – Health effects of inhaling poppers, 2016)

The FDA’s own evidence vindicated poppers, but the powerbrokers got their way anyhow restricting its use and controlling how poppers are marketed and sold.


A review of the documents that are generated in a search of the terms “poppers” and alkyl nitrites presents mixed viewpoints. Many of the items are related to businesses that are geared toward marketing their products for sale. Others are from interest groups who share their positive experiences and support for the use of poppers and alkyl nitrites and related substances. Still others serve as negative propaganda geared toward prohibitory laws and restrictions on people’s choices to use the products as they intend. Others still, present only the information that supports their emotional perspective, presenting incomplete and inconclusive information.

Many present the facts about the products and leave the reader the responsibility to explore the topic thoroughly in order to develop an informed perspective. The difficulty is finding hard objective scientific data on poppers and alkyl nitrites, not nitrates. My vote is for the later: make a sound decision based on facts, not misrepresentation in the media!