Ask Kim: What are Poppers?

Dear Kim,

I’ve made some new friends in the local gay scene lately and some of them talk about doing poppers when they party. I have heard of poppers before, but I am not really sure what they are, and whether they are dangerous. Can you explain more to me?



Dear Unsure,

Great question! Poppers are a drug that we hear people talk about a lot, but don’t really learn much about in school drug prevention programs. The scientific name of the drug we call “poppers” is akyl nitrites. In medicine, they are used to treat heart conditions by increasing blood flow. When used recreationally, they dilate blood vessels, which creates a rush of oxygen to the head. That produces the pleasurable or euphoric feeling that people associate with poppers. The feeling lasts for just a few minutes.

Another reason people use poppers is because it makes bottoming easier. It relaxes the muscles in the anus, making it easier to insert a penis or toy.

Poppers are sold in small bottles with labels like “video cleaner” or “room deodorizer,” and are unregulated for use as drugs. This can make dosing difficult. Taking too much can cause unpleasant effects like headaches and dizziness, and if used a lot, can damage the nose, eyes, and throat. They are also highly flammable and extremely dangerous to swallow. 

The only way to eliminate these risks is not to use poppers; however, for folks who choose to do so, there are ways to lower the risks associated with poppers. Start with a very small dose every time, since it’s impossible to know exactly what is in the bottle. If you get a headache, that’s an indicator you’ve had enough. If you are planning to have sex after using, discuss any boundaries and safety considerations with your partner ahead of time. In an emergency – for example, swallowing the popper bottle contents or heart problems – call 911.

A great resource for information and harm reduction tips on many types of drugs is so be sure to check them out. Be safe out there!

Be well, be yourself,


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