Butyl nitrite is an inhalant, called “poppers” in recreational use, referring to one of several chemical compounds known by that name, including other alkyl nitrites. It is inhaled for its brief but intense “rush”, which can increase sexual pleasure and produce a feeling of euphoria. It dilates blood vessels, increasing heart rate and blood pressure throughout the body, with effects that usually last a few minutes at most. It comes in small vials, partly because it loses its potency after only a few days, but also because only a small amount is needed to feel its effects.

Butyl nitrite and poppers in general are considered to be among the least dangerous drugs, although they can still carry very significant risks, especially when abused or in people with health problems. Using poppers in any form other than inhalation, such as by drinking or injecting them, is extremely dangerous. Butyl nitrite is also highly flammable, and although it can be inhaled from a cigarette dipped in poppers, there have been reports of injuries resulting from cigarettes accidentally catching fire.

Poppers do not generally cause any physiological dependence problems. However, some people have already developed a habit of using butyl nitrite, which can lead to a form of addiction.

Originally intended for medical use, poppers began to become popular in nightclubs in the 1970s, first among the homosexual community, before spreading to all kinds of users in different social sectors.

Alkyl nitrites, of which butyl nitrite is one form, nevertheless have potentially legitimate, if superficial, uses in air fresheners, video head cleaners, and nail polish removers, and although they are restricted in some countries, including the United States, they are legal in others, as long as they are not marketed as products for human consumption.


In recreational use, butyl nitrite is referred to almost exclusively as “poppers,” which can also refer to other alkyl nitrites. While the term poppers can be considered its street name, it is often marketed under brand names such as “TNT”, “Liquid Gold” and “Rush”. It is readily available in many countries, particularly in the developed world.

Although it is technically a controlled substance, it can be prescribed for medical purposes. In the UK, poppers are often found in stores and stalls selling drug paraphernalia, in gay bars and on the Internet, as they are technically legal as long as they are not marketed as products for recreational use. Because of their relatively low death rate and risk of addiction compared to other drugs, they are not a priority for governments and drug enforcement agencies.


The effects of butyl nitrite inhalation are almost instantaneous and very intense for a very short time. Users feel the blood rush to their head, which is accompanied by a feeling of dizziness and hot flashes. Poppers relax the muscles called “smooth muscles”, which surround the blood vessels, causing an increase in blood flow and a very fast heart rate. Smooth muscles are also present in the anus, which helps explain the popularity of this drug in the gay community. Although the effects may be slightly different from person to person, they are said to increase sexual pleasure tenfold and slow down the perception of time.

Despite their immediate and intense effects upon inhalation, poppers have an exceptionally short shelf life, ranging from 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on the amount inhaled. Prolonged exposure is normally unpleasant because of the headaches it causes, so overdoses by inhalation are rare.

However, poppers are risky and can be fatal for someone with heart or blood pressure problems. Poppers also cause swelling of the eyes, which can be a risk for people with glaucoma. Butyl nitrite should never be mixed with Viagra, which can be very dangerous.

Most of the time, excessive use of poppers causes headaches and contact with the substance can cause burns on the skin. This can also happen with repeated inhalation and irritation can occur around the mouth and nose.

Ingestion of poppers can exceptionally be dangerous, even accidentally in small amounts, and can cause loss of consciousness, coma, or even death. Pregnant women should avoid using poppers.


Although poppers are technically illegal in the U.S., because of their relatively low health and mortality risks, they are not a priority for drug law enforcement agencies and as long as they are marketed, for example, as home fragrances or video head cleaners, they seem to be able to be sold fairly freely. The situation is the same in the UK and other European countries, where supply can technically be an offence, but possession is not. Strangely enough, in the UK and other countries, poppers are legal under the Medicines Act 1968 as long as they are not marketed as products for human consumption, although it is widely recognized that they are primarily used for that purpose.

They can also be prescribed and obtained from pharmacies to treat conditions such as sore throats, although this is extremely rare as there are more effective drugs available. Governments tend to focus their efforts on harder drugs and solvent use, which means that there are relatively few arrests in Western countries for poppers alone.

As a result, butyl nitrite is not trafficked on a large scale, as it is often more economically attractive to manufacture it in the country where it is sold, or simply to import legal varieties. There has also been an increase in recent years in the number of poppers imported through orders placed on Internet sites based in countries where poppers are legal, such as China, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Despite their apparent legality in these countries, many other countries classify poppers as an illicit substance, but of low priority given its low health risks.

In the U.S., many companies that used to use butyl nitrite in the manufacture of poppers reacted when it was declared illegal by using cyclohexyl nitrite, a legal compound, as their main ingredient instead. However, it should not be marketed as a product for human consumption. Butyl nitrite is still often the main ingredient in poppers manufactured in the UK.

Poppers are most often sold in sex shops, market stalls and stores selling drug paraphernalia. They are not found in mainstream stores or supermarkets, reflecting the grey area surrounding their legality. As long as butyl nitrite, and poppers in general, are not linked to a significant number of deaths and health risks, there seems to be a relative balance between manufacturers, governments and consumers.

Any attempt to further criminalize this drug would only encourage manufacturers to modify ingredients to circumvent the law, which could lead to the production of more dangerous variants and an increase in illicit trafficking. Similarly, any attempt by manufacturers to market poppers as a recreational drug would be considered illegal, even if that is the intended use.



  • Butyl nitrite is one of the main ingredients used in poppers. Amyl nitrite may also be used. Poppers is the term used for these substances as a recreational drug.
  • When inhaled, it causes an intense feeling of euphoria, with hot flashes and relaxation of the muscles, especially around the anus. The effects appear immediately upon inhalation, but rarely last more than a few minutes.
  • Poppers were originally used to treat angina and cyanide poisoning. They began to be marketed in the 1970s, becoming particularly popular in the American gay community.
  • Their legality in many countries is somewhat shrouded in a grey area. In the United
  • Kingdom, butyl nitrite-based poppers are legal as long as they are marketed, for example, as solvents or video head cleaners and not as products for human consumption.
  • Poppers are considered relatively harmless compared to other drugs and are not addictive. However, they can be extremely dangerous when combined with other conditions such as glaucoma, anemia and heart problems.
  • They are particularly dangerous if ingested, in which case they can be fatal.
  • The name “poppers” comes from the sound (“pop”) made by the glass bottles in which they were sold. Today, they are sold in small vials, partly because they lose their potency so quickly, but also because only a small amount is needed to feel the effects.
  • Poppers can cause skin burns on contact and repeated use can cause irritation around the nose and mouth when inhaled.
  • In the past, poppers have been linked to HIV and have sometimes been blamed for it.
  • However, there is no scientific evidence to support this. Instead, it is thought that poppers users tend to engage in more risky sexual practices. This may also increase exposure to certain cancers in HIV-positive people.


  • A 1987 study in the United States found that less than 3% of the population had ever used poppers. This figure is much higher among homosexual men, among whom the use of poppers is much more widespread.
  • The effects of poppers are instantaneous upon inhalation, but last only 2-3 minutes at most.
  • In 2000-2001, 1.5% of Americans aged 12 to 17 reportedly admitted to using poppers.
  • This figure rose to 1.8% among adolescents over 14 years of age.
  • Conversely, in a study conducted in the northwest of England, 20% of 16-year-olds admitted to using poppers, suggesting that poppers are much more popular among this age group in the UK than in the US.
  • Vials of poppers range from 5 to 30 ml, but are most often sold in 10 ml doses. One 30 ml vial would be enough for hundreds of inhalations.
  • The boiling point of butyl nitrate is 78.2 degrees Celsius.
  • In 1978, it was estimated that the poppers industry was making over $50 million in profits per year. The industry at that time was largely run by criminal organizations.
  • In a 1988 survey of gay men in Washington, DC and Baltimore, 69% of those surveyed admitted to using poppers, with 21% saying they had used them in the previous year.


Poppers are not physically addictive, but psychological dependence can develop and some cases have been recorded after repeated use. Some users may feel unable to have sex when not under the influence of poppers or may simply enjoy the effect. Poppers can also be linked to the use of other solvents and substances.

Although the effects of butyl nitrite are very brief, lasting only a few minutes at most, they can easily be detected before they wear off. Inhalation causes hot flashes and intense but brief feelings of drunkenness and euphoria, with a significant increase in heart rate. After the initial effects wear off, users may complain of headaches.

The most obvious sign of regular popper use is skin irritation around the nose and mouth. Poppers burn the skin on contact and the vapors from repeated use have a similar effect.

Butyl nitrite is not usually found in conventional stores or supermarkets, and repeated visits to sex shops, drug paraphernalia stores and market stalls may indicate an intention to buy poppers. Poppers are sold in small vials labeled with a brand name such as “Liquid Gold” or “TNT” and described as a video head cleaner or remover. Their presence can therefore be a warning.


Butyl nitrite is not addictive, but this does not mean that a user cannot develop a psychological dependence, perhaps because he or she does not think he or she can have sex without using it or simply enjoys the effect. An addiction to butyl nitrite is therefore relatively simple to treat, as there are no physical symptoms of withdrawal, it is only a matter of getting rid of the habit. Although it is best to consult a doctor when dealing with any kind of addiction, an addiction to poppers should not normally require too much medical intervention except in the most severe cases.

Quitting poppers is essentially a matter of will, as there is no physiological need. However, the initial reasons for addiction may be more complex than simply enjoying the effects. An underlying desire to regularly alter one’s mood may be a sign of more serious psychological problems, which will need to be treated to facilitate withdrawal.

If a person does not feel able to have sex without using, this may indicate emotional problems that may require therapy, simply talking to someone or possibly medication. A person who frequently wishes to change their state of mind may be suffering from other psychological problems such as depression. It is important to diagnose and treat these problems whenever possible, to avoid the risk that an addicted person will eventually simply replace one drug with a potentially more powerful and harmful one.

Repeated use of poppers is associated with long-lasting harmful effects that can be cause for concern. In rare cases, users may, for example, be at risk for certain medical conditions such as cardiac arhythmias. It may be best for someone trying to kick a popper addiction to see a doctor for a checkup to ensure that any health problems that may result in the long term are detected and treated before it’s too late.

One of the best ways to break any habit is to replace it with something less harmful. If a person has a habit of inhaling poppers in certain situations or at certain times of the day, it may be best to deal with it in another way, such as chewing gum.

Removing the temptation to buy poppers by not going to places where they are sold can also be effective. Compared to other more powerful drugs, poppers are among the easiest to give up, but it can be difficult to kick an old habit, even if there are no signs of physical dependence.