Amyl Nitrite: Composition, Therapeutic use, Treatment. Amyl Nitrite Effects. Reactions with other drugs.

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 5:21 am


Official names: Amyl nitrate, amyl nitrite

Street names: Amy, high-tech, kix, liquid gold, locker room, poppers, ram, rave, rush, snappers, thrust, TNT

Drug classifications: Not scheduled, inhalant


Key terms

AMPHETAMINES: A class of drugs frequently abused as a stimulant. Used medically to treat narcolepsy (a condition characterized by brief attacks of deep sleep) and as an appetite suppressant.

ANGINA PECTORIS: A disease marked by spasmodic attacks of intense, suffocating chest pain due to insufficient blood flow to the heart.

APHRODISIAC: A substance or drug that increases sexual desire.

BRONCHITIS: An acute inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs.

CARCINOGENS: Substances or agents that cause cancer.

CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION: A procedure designed to restore normal breathing after the heart stops. It includes clearing air passages to the lungs, mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration, and heart massage by exerting pressure on the chest.

CEREBELLUM: A large part of the brain that helps with muscle coordination and balance.

CEREBRAL CORTEX: The surface layer of gray matter in the front part of the brain that helps in coordinating the senses and motor functions.

CYANIDE: Any of several chemical compounds that acts on the respiratory system and can quickly cause death.

ECSTASY: The street name for MDMA, an illegal club drug that is mildly hallucinogenic.

GHB (GAMMA HYDROXYBUTYRATE): Originally soldin health food stores as a growth hormone, a liquid nervous depressant touted for its ecstasy-like qualities. Banned by the FDA in 1990, the respiratory depression it can cause makes it among the most dangerous club drugs in circulation.

GLAUCOMA: A disease of the eye that can lead to blindness.

HALLUCINOGENS: A group of drugs that induces sensory distortions and hallucinations.

IMPOTENCE: The inability to achieve or maintain an erection.

KETAMINE: An anesthetic abused for its mind-altering effects that is popular as an illicit club drug. It is sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault, or date rape.

NITROGLYCERINE: A heavy, oily, explosive liquid used in medically in tiny amounts to dilate blood vessels in treating angina pectoris.

ROHYPNOL (FLUNTRAZEPAM): An overseas prescription sleeping aid that, in lower doses, gives users a feeling similar to alcohol intoxication; also used as a date rape drug.



Amyl nitrite was discovered in England in the 1840s and used to treat angina pectoris, a heart condition marked by severe chest pains and shortness of breath. Until then, physicians had treated the condition by using leeches to “bleed” the body of impurities. Amyl nitrite was used to treat angina pectoris because it dilated blood vessels, causing the heart to get more oxygen and thereby relieving the pain. However, one of the side effects was that it caused the patient to experience a short but dizzying burst of euphoria.

The drug was packaged in small, mesh-covered glass vials, which could be crushed with the thumb and fingers and the vapors inhaled. (The vials of amyl nitrite became known as “poppers” because of the sound they made when crushed.) The drug triggered an almost immediate jump in the heart rate and a corresponding drop in blood pressure, causing smooth muscle tissue to relax. At the same time, it cuts the amount of oxygen to the brain, causing a sudden, intense weakness and dizziness that lasts two or three minutes.

Over time, amyl nitrite was used less and less to treat angina, but it grew in popularity with rumors that it allegedly intensified sexual orgasm. Although there is no research that suggests amyl nitrite is an effective aphrodisiac, by the 1950s it had gained a reputation in the British show business industry for enhancing sexual orgasm. In the 1960s, it found particular acceptance among gay men in the United States, especially in urban areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

In the 1970s, the drug became popular among young gay males in both the United States and Britain.

It was widely used in discos and dance clubs to get a momentary “rush” while dancing. The sudden usage increase coincided with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to eliminate the need for a prescription to obtain the drug in the early 1960s. When the FDA reinstated the prescription requirement in 1969, manufacturers got around it by using slightly altered formulas. The alterations were minor and the effects of the drugs were the same.

The modified formulas, called butyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite, did not require FDA approval because they were not marketed as either a drug or food product. They were marketed heavily in the gay community under the general name of “poppers.” By 1974, poppers were in full swing within the gay community, and large advertising campaigns were mounted in gay publications, according to Randy Viele, outreach coordinator for Project H.O.P.E. (HIV Outreach Prevention Education) in northeast New York.

During the 1960s, amyl nitrite, along with a variety of other drugs, including marijuana, heroin, opium, LSD, and amphetamines, made its way to U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam. When the soldiers returned to the U.S. after their tour of duty, many continued their poppers habit. The FDA reinstated its ban on amyl nitrite without a prescription in 1969, following reports from soldiers and former soldiers in the United States of serious problems caused by the drug. These problems included skin burns, fainting, dizziness, breathing difficulties, and blood anomalies.

In 1988, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission banned the sale of butyl nitrite. But manufacturers kept one step ahead of federal regulatory agencies. Each time a specific formula was banned, the manufacturers would adjust by altering the chemical composition slightly. As of 2002, the newest popper was cyclohexyl nitrite, commonly sold in drug paraphernalia or “head” shops and adult bookstores as a head cleaner for VCRs. Cyclohexyl is chemically similar to amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite and produces the same effect when inhaled.


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