Amyl Nitrite Poppers

A drug that was initially synthesized to alleviate chest pain in the 1800s may have been a major player in the disco and rave culture that developed at the end of the 20th century.

And, it still exists today.

Amyl Nitrite, also known as Poppers, was first synthesized in 1844 and was later used by physicians to treat angina—chest pain caused by coronary artery disease. The drug is a vasodilator, which means that it improves blood flow and mitigates pain caused by constricted or blocked arteries.

By the late 1970s, amyl nitrite poppers emerged as a popular party drug, particularly in the LGBTQ community in the disco and rave scene. It was originally packaged in small, fragile glass capsules that were broken, or popped, and inhaled, earning the drug its nickname. Though it began as a “new drug craze” in the LGBTQ community, it quickly spread to a wide variety of users.

Typically, the drug’s effects are mild and, though it has been banned in other western countries (most recently in the UK), amyl nitrate poppers are still legal in the United States. But do they pose any threat or are they as harmless as their legality would suggest?

What is Amyl Nitrite?

Amyl nitrate is a class of drugs called alkyl nitrites. It’s considered a volatile liquid, because it is gaseous at room temperature. This makes them distinct from other drugs that are inhaled like marijuana, crack-cocaine, and meth, which require heat to produce gas. They are sometimes sold as room fresheners because the chemical compound has a clear, fruity fragrance. This also provides a cover for shops and clubs that sell them for use as party drugs — as they can be sold under a product label of “air freshener.”

Effects of Amyl Nitrite Poppers

The effects of a typical dose of amyl nitrite are generally mild and may elevate mood, especially in social atmospheres. In a study examining the top 20 recreational drugs, poppers were ranked 20th in terms of physical harm and 18th in the risk of forming a dependence on the substance. The study indicates that it is at the bottom of the list when it comes to concerning drugs on the streets. However, in some circumstances, they can still produce negative side effects.

While many users only report excessive laughter and physical euphoria after taking amyl nitrite poppers. However, some pervasive effects occur in many users including:

  • Disinhibition, or a loss of restraint in decision making that can lead to reckless or bold choices.
  • Headrush, headache
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Increased libido

The expansion of blood vessels throughout the body can cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure, which can be a risk for anyone predisposed to hypotension, in turn causing dizziness, fainting, or other complications.

Long-Term Effects of Amyl Nitrite

The level of harm from long-term use is moderate, but that does not mean mild allergic reactions to potentially life-threatening symptoms don’t exist. A blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia can lead to inadequate oxygen supply to the blood tissue, and this can lead to death. 

Frequent use of the drug can also cause a rash to form around the user’s mouth, nose, eyes, or any part of their skin that comes in contact with the vapors. It can appear as skin irritation, and direct fluid with the skin can cause severe burns.

Someone who is pregnant or has high blood pressure should not come into contact with the substance. Use of the drug at this point can become problematic, and it can increase the risk of harmful effects. Also, fluid can also build up in the eyes, creating other issues for the user.

How Long Does Amyl Nitrite Stay in Your System?

While standard drug tests do not test for amyl nitrite, the drug can remain in your system and test positive in urine for up to three days but could remain even longer depending on your weight, water retention, age, and metabolism.

Combining Amyl Nitrite With Other Party Drugs

Using amyl nitrite with other drugs can be unpredictable, and in some cases, deadly. When the drug is combined with MDMA or amphetamines, it can place an increased strain on the heart. The body is put under excess stress and can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. If you use the drug in conjunction with other stimulants and experience dizziness or a drop in blood pressure, you must immediately call 911.

Health Conditions and Amyl Nitrite

The presence of certain medical conditions can exaggerate the effects or have grave consequences for those who use the drug. While someone should never use these drugs recreationally, if you choose to do so, you must consult with your doctor to ensure you have no underlying medical conditions. Such conditions to look out for include:

  • Anemia
  • Glaucoma 
  • Overactive thyroid
  • High blood pressure
  • Recent stroke, heart attack, or head injury

Abusing poppers with any of the above-listed conditions can lead to rapid heart rhythms and result in sudden sniffing death. Amyl nitrite can also cause what is known as methemoglobinemia, a life-threatening condition when the body produces too much methemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells.

Poppers and Sexual Disinhibition

The popularity of amyl nitrite poppers in the 70s and 80s came to be called a “craze” among same-sex male partners in the rave scene. The drug increases the libido and lowers inhibitions, which acts as a social lubricant in party settings. However, as a vasodilator, it also relaxes smooth muscles like the sphincter, which facilitates anal intercourse.

In the late 20th century, researchers believed that poppers may have been contributing to the perpetuation of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Studies are able to find a correlation between an increase in risky sexual behavior and the use of popular club drugs. In the case of amyl nitrite poppers, the combination of increasing libido and lowering inhibitions can result in risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex with strangers.

However, correlation does not equal causation. The direct relationship between club drugs and the spread of HIV continues to elude scientific studies. Plus, it could be that people engaging in the club lifestyle are already more likely to engage sexual behaviors that go with club culture.

Toxicity Risk of Amyl Nitrite Poppers

When the vapor is inhaled at a proper dose, amyl nitrite poses a very low toxicity risk. However, adverse effects are more dangerous at high doses. Poppers are considered very dangerous when ingested instead of inhaled. When swallowed, amyl nitrite can lead to unconsciousness, coma, and death. Aspiration of liquid amyl nitrite can also lead to pneumonia.

Poppers can also be dangerous when taken with other vasodilators like sildenafil (Viagra). This poses a larger risk in social situations where poppers are used in sexual encounters. Users may use both without knowing the potential for fainting, stroke, and heart attack.

A Warning About the Dangers of Inhaling Party Drugs

Popper users may encounter other substances that are similar to amyl nitrite with more harmful effects. Huffing or inhaling drugs can be unpredictable and dangerous. Many substances that are huffed or inhaled can be toxic at any dose.

One study points out the risk this poses to popper users who may mistake other inhalants for amyl nitrite. Not only is it possible that the user’s mistake one for the other, but it’s also possible that clinicians may have trouble telling the difference.

Party Drug Culture

Though amyl nitrite poppers saw an explosion of popularity in the US in the 70s and 80s, its prevalence has declined in favor of other options. Even despite popper’s legality, other substances like MDMA (also known as Molly or ecstasy) have taken over the rave scene. Since the 70s and 80s, other synthetic designer drugs have made their way into circulation at parties as well.

The wide variety of illicit substances that inundate the party culture make engaging with party drugs more of a gamble. Plus, dealers and black market manufacturers may also intentionally mislabel a substance to sell it as a more popular or more expensive option. Certain substances may be more addictive, or even deadlier than common legal party drugs like poppers.

If you or a loved one is struggling with abuse of party drugs, call Arete Recovery at 844-318-7500 or contact us online to find out more about your options. Recovery might just be a call away.


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2C-I Drug Effects: Can You Overdose?

Not all psychedelics come from a remote place in some distant mountain forest or tropical jungle, like DMT or mescaline. Some are created in labs in order to synthesize and study the effects of different chemical compounds and explore any potential uses. In the 1960s and 70s, psychedelics were the subject of intense drugs. In fact, scientists ran scores of experiments using drugs like LSD, some of which have become infamous.

Some synthetic psychedelic drugs are produced from existing, naturally occurring psychoactive chemicals—2C-I is one such drug. As a member of the 2C family, the 2C-I drug is a synthetic club drug that was created in the 70s from a naturally occurring psychedelic compound called mescaline, which comes from a variety of plants including the peyote cactus.

When these drugs find their way to the streets they can be unpredictable. With a variety of chemical compounds in the 2C family, it can be difficult for users to know what they are getting into. It can also be difficult for law enforcement and legislators to respond to unique compounds and designer drugs. Finally, medical professionals may have a hard time responding to patients who are intoxicated by one of many possible 2C drugs. Researchers often produce studies, exploring possible treatment options for specific compounds like the 2C-I drug.

What Are Designer Drugs?

The 2C-1 drug is a member of a long line of designer drugs, which are substances that have similarities with other illicit drugs. These similarities may include comparable chemical properties and effects. Designer drugs are produced when a popular drug is banned and strictly controlled. Then one of two things occurs:

  1. There is an existing legal compound that was created for some scientific purpose that closely resembles a controlled substance.
  2. An illegal lab produces a similar compound to be sold on the gray market (a market used to sell items that are potentially illegal to trade but are done so through loopholes).

Sometimes designer drugs maintain their popularity even after they are banned and regulated. In the case of drugs designed by the academic community, these compounds are often created to maximize potency and minimize negative side effects. On the other hand, designer drugs are new compounds distinct from their illicit counterparts. If users treat them like known versions of the drug with no knowledge of potency, it can lead to overdoses or other negative effects.

The term “bath salts” was popular in the media a few years ago, referring to a specific drug that caused increased aggression and violent behavior. However, bath salts is a term used to describe designer drugs in general. The name comes from the fact that designer drugs are often sold disguised as some other product like cleaner or actual bath salts.

Following the banning of MDMA in 1985, designer drugs in the 2C family started to grow in popularity. 2C-B was also targeting with a ban in the early 2000s and 2C-I took center stages. As of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012, 2C-I is illegal in the US.

What Is the 2C-I Drug?

2C-I is a psychedelic drug that is a phenethylamine, or an organic compound that acts as a nervous system stimulant. The 2C-I drug gained the nickname smiles because, unlike many psychedelic drugs, 2C-I has effects similar to MDMA (ecstasy).

2C-I was synthesized by Alexander Shulgin in 1975, along with some other phenethylamines and the rest of the 2C-I drugs. He published a study measuring the potency of these drugs and later a book titled PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. Shulgin is credited with introducing MDMA to the scientific community and through his work became known as the “godfather of psychedelics”. In his published writings, he describes a plethora of different chemical compounds with slight variations and varied effects.

2C-I is often confused with the drug 2C-I-NBOMe which is a psychedelic that also shares some effects similar to MDMA. However, this drug, also known as “smiles,” has a much lower active dose than NBOMe. It has lead to overdoses when users take a dose that would be appropriate for 2C-I.

Physiological Experience of the 2C-I Drug Effects

Since the 2C-I drug is a stimulant, it causes a variety of effects that manifest in the body including muscle spasm, cramps, and contractions. In a 2014 study, researchers found that the drug produced a head twitch in mice. The drug has other physical effects that aren’t typical of other psychedelics like DMT or psilocybin. For instance, 2C-1 drug effects raise energy levels in a way that is similar to MDMA. 2C-I is also said to produce an intense “body high”, or pins and needles and skin sensitivity, in a larger dosage that isn’t present in other psychedelics.

Users also experience unpredictable rushes of bodily warmth that start at the top of the head. Others who experience this kind of physical euphoria may also feel an intensification of the sense of touch.

Other common physical effects of the 2C-I drug include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea
  • Pupil dilation

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology reported some other more serious physical side effects including hypertension, tachycardia, seizures, and, because of the drug’s effect of blocking temperature regulation, hyperthermia.

Psychological 2C-I Drug Effects

2C-I drug effects are congruent with other psychedelics like LSD and has some overlapping effects with MDMA. While psychedelics like LSD and salvia can be less enjoyable to users and more dangerous in a party setting, 2C-I is commonly used at parties.

Like MDMA, 2C-I affects users with empathogenic effects. This refers to a heightened experience of emotional connection with others and emotional openness. A study in mice also showed that subjects increased social and exploratory behavior. Users also report a feeling of increased environmental novelty or being in awe of their surroundings. Other psychological effects of  the 2C-I drug include:

  • Increased libido
  • Time distortion
  • Wakefulness
  • Hallucinations
  • Synaesthesia, crossing of senses (ie. tasting words, hearing colors)

According to the Journal of Medical Toxicology study, 2C drugs also displayed some other psychological symptoms including agitation, aggression, and violent tendencies.

2C-I Drug Overdose Risks

Since the 2C-I drug has only recently been common on the streets as a designer drug, there is still a lot to learn about its effects on humans. Many users are unaware of the potency and potential risks they face when ingesting these serious lab-grown substances. Studies show that people who used 2C-I suffered from dangerous levels of delirium, hyperthermia, and seizures, all of which require immediate medical attention.

Case studies involving fatal seizures are being studied as they seem to be closely related to recent doses of 2C-I drugs. Designer drugs can be deadly and 2C-I is no exception.

Seeking Substance Abuse Treatment Help

There is little evidence to suggest that the 2C-I drug effects have a high likelihood of addiction. However, as a party drug, it has a high likelihood of being abused. If you or a loved one struggles with drug abuse, call Arete Recovery at (954) 893-2710 or contact us online to speak with an advisor anytime day or night. Find out what you can do to start your road to recovery today.