Amyl Nitrite was first produced in 1857. It is a highly volatile flammable liquid, which evaporates at room temperature. The substance was originally used (from 1867) as a treatment for angina. It is still occasionally used for this purpose, although other forms of treatment are more usual. The name ‘poppers‘ comes from the way the substance used to be packaged – in small glass capsules, which were cracked open to release the vapor (the capsules popped when they were opened). Nitrites are now sold in small bottles, and are usually Butyl Nitrite, a substance similar to Amyl Nitrite but less potent. Amyl and Butyl Nitrite are part of the chemical group called Alkyl Nitrites.
Once opened, the Amyl or Butyl Nitrite evaporates and the vapor is inhaled. These products are usually described by the manufacturers as ‘room odourisers‘ with an implicit suggestion that the bottle should be opened, and the vapor allowed to fill a room.
The effects of this drug can be felt around fifteen seconds after you have inhaled. Most people experience a rush of light-headedness and some dizziness, followed by relaxation and a general feeling of well-being. Sometimes you may feel flushed, or may lose some control of your body function – as well as feeling dizzy, you may actually fall over. The effects are very short lived, usually lasting for up to three minutes.
These nitrites cause blood vessels to enlarge, lowering blood pressure and increasing the rate at which your heart pumps. The other main effect is as a muscle relaxant; poppers have been popular within the gay scene for a number of years for this reason.
Anybody who suffers from circulatory problems or from low blood pressure should be particularly wary of this substance, which acts as a stimulant to the system. Nitrites are known to be potent inhibitors of the human immune system, and there is currently some debate about the role these substances have with regard to AIDS. Researchers based at the US National Institute on Drug Abuse have been studying the physiological effects of nitrites, and their research results suggest that use of this drug can cause ‘sustained alterations to the human immune system’, and may be connected to the development of cancers such as Karposi’s Sarcoma.