What are poppers

Poppers is a yellowish liquid that is sold in small bottles. When inhaled, it gives a short-term rush. Poppers are often used during sex. It used to be contained in small capsules that made a ‘popping’ sound when broken open. It is flammable, evaporates very quickly, irritates the skin and smells very strongly, usually described as a very unpleasant smell. Poppers usually contain the substance amyl nitrite, but also sometimes butyl nitrite or isoamyl nitrite.


Poppers are a narcotic.

The effect of a substance is determined by the properties of the substance itself, but also by the set and setting of the user. Here we describe the effects poppers generally have.

Users experience a mild, short-lived, blissful feeling. It is often described as a brief sensation of near loss of consciousness and is somewhat similar to the effect of nitrous oxide. You suddenly feel very relaxed, loose, dizzy and a warm feeling rises to your head.

The drug causes a loosening of the (smooth) muscles and the vessel walls. So does the sphincter of the anus, which is why poppers are used in gay circles during sex. In addition, the rush enhances the sexual experience and can strengthen the erection and make it last longer. The blood vessels dilate causing the blood pressure to drop. This creates a risk of dizziness and fainting. This reduction in blood pressure can also have a negative effect on erection. The heart has to work harder to prevent palpitations. It can also give you a (throbbing) headache.

Poppers can slow you down to such an extent that you can no longer think critically. This way you can easily go beyond your own limits and do things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. This can result in an unwanted sex experience and you can get a big hangover from that. It can also mean that you have unprotected sex when you would not allow it in a sober state.

Positive effects (negative) Side effects

Increased libido

Increased sexual desires. You feel more attracted to others and feel a stronger need for sexual intimacy.


The feeling that someone is spinning, or that the world is spinning around someone. This impairs balance.


Reduction of stress, uneasiness, sadness, panic, and feelings of depression.


This substance leads to an increase in impulsive behaviour and can make you less aware of the possible consequences that certain actions have. This can be nice because, for example, it is easier to approach someone and have a chat. However, it can also lead to negative situations as you can get into an argument or physical altercation more quickly.

Euphoria, feelings of love

This substance can make you feel euphoric, like you are in love. You feel comfortable in your own skin and can experience things as pleasant more quickly.

Vasodilation (blood vessel dilation)

Some drugs cause your blood vessels to dilate (widen).

Decreased muscle tension

Decreased general tone (= relaxation) of muscles.

Lowered blood pressure

Some drugs can lower the blood pressure in your body.

More intense experience of touch

Physical/physical contact with other people feels different or more intense than usual. Giving a hug to someone else can be very pleasant. It can also happen that you prefer not to touch others because this can be too intense. This effect can therefore be both positive and negative.


This substance can cause fainting.

Head ache

Head ache

Erection problems

Problems getting an erection.


An uneasy and tense feeling in the abdomen, which may cause discomfort. Nausea often precedes vomiting.

Pressure on the chest / heart palpitations

Pressure on the chest / heart palpitations

Blue nails or lips

When binging certain drugs, lips or nails can sometimes turn blue temporarily.

Dose and route of administration

The liquid is dripped onto a handkerchief after which the vapor is sniffed or the vapor is directly inhaled by smelling the bottle. A cigarette can also be dipped in the bottle, after which the liquid is inhaled via the unignited cigarette. The liquid irritates the skin. A bottle of poppers or a handkerchief with poppers should therefore not come into direct contact with your skin or mucous membranes. Poppers have a strong (sweaty feet) odor.

One sniff is enough for most people to feel the effect or sometimes even to lose consciousness. How much you get depends in part on how you use it. If you put a lot on a handkerchief, hold your nose above it for a long time and inhale, you will inhale more than if you briefly hang your nose above the bottle. Because it is a volatile substance, it is difficult to measure exactly how much you ingest.


Inhaling gives a buzz after ten seconds that lasts one to two minutes.


The risks are small with sporadic and limited use. With prolonged and frequent use, there are indeed risks, especially for physical health. Because poppers increase the pressure behind the eyeball, visual disturbances can occur. Poppers are also said to have a negative influence on the immune system (methemoglobinemia). However, this seems to occur very sporadically.

Psychological dependence can develop with regular use of poppers. Because it is often combined with sex, there are users who describe that sex is no longer fun without poppers. With regular use, tolerance develops, which means that more and more must be used to achieve the same effect.

Short term risks


This substance can cause fainting.

Irritation of the skin and mucous membranes

If this drug comes into contact with the skin or mucous membranes, (severe) irritation can occur.

Long term risks

Psychological addiction

Psychological addiction means that you feel like you can’t live without a substance.

You can however stop taking this drug, without your body experiencing any issues.

Decreased resistance

MDMA can lower your resistance. This means you can get sick more quickly.


Using poppers may damage the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. The altered hemoglobin (methemoglobin) is unable to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

Visual disturbances

An increase in pressure in the eyeball can cause visual disturbances.


Combining different types of drugs can be risky and unpredictable. Combining medications can put you at a higher risk of health problems. In the following sections, you’ll read about the effects and risks of some common combinations, as well as some that can be extra dangerous. See also the theme of combining drugs.


Unity tips

There is no real safe use of poppers. The risks can be limited, read the Unity tips for this:

  • Use occasionaly not regularly.
  • Take a small dose first.
  • Be very careful when inhaling. Poppers should not come into contact with your skin, eyes or (nasal) mucous membranes or fingers. You can transfer it to other mucous membranes via your fingers.
  • Don’t use it if you pass out easily.
  • Prepare well; use in a trusted environment with trusted people.
  • Put down your glass and put your cigarette away.
  • Let your environment know what you are going to use so they can keep an eye on you can be there for you.
  • Make sure there is someone around who is sober.
  • Do not combine with alcohol, ecstasy, speed, methamphetamine, GHB or other drugs.
  • Do not combine with Viagra.
  • Poppers can induce sex drive; protect yourself against STDs and AIDS by using a condom.
  • Only use if you are in good physical and mental condition.
  • Be careful with lit cigarettes, lighters or other fire, poppers are highly flammable!

Unity tips for using drugs

  • When using a drug for the first time, take only a small dose to see how your body reacts to the substance
  • Only use drugs when you are feeling well
  • Use drugs recreationally, not to combat psychological issues like fatigue
  • Avoid using drugs if you have (had) psychological afflictions or if you have a family history of psychological diseases (such as depression) in your family
  • Test your drugs before use at a drugs-testing service
  • Make sure to prepare a good set and setting for drug use
  • Only use drugs sparingly. Keep track of your use over time.
  • Decide in advance how much you are planning to use over the evening, and stick to that. 
  • Do not combine drugs with other substances or medicines
  • Do not participate in traffic after drug use
  • Prevent infectious diseases; Use your own snorter/sniffer and do not share paraphernalia with others
  • After insufflating, rinse your nose well with lukewarm saline water (for example, by using a nasal spray or nasal douche)
  • Are you, or one of your friends not feeling well? Keep an eye out for one another, take care of each other and visit the first aid (if one is available)
  • Call 112 in a life-threatening situation
  • Eat healthy before and after drug use. In particular, foods with lots of antioxidants and vitamins (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, raisins, oranges, kiwi, broccoli). This is perhaps the most important tip! It can be difficult to eat during and after drug use, but make sure to try to eat something anyway. Eating well is a great way to reduce the hangover! If you can’t hold in solid foods, try juices, breakfast drinks, and smoothies.


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