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Are poppers actually safe to use? Here’s everything to know

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Poppers are commonly used throughout the LGBTQ+ community, so if you’re queer, you’ve probably heard of them. Poppers aren’t nearly as addictive as many other substances, and they’re a staple in queer spaces. You’ll find them at bars, events, and in the bedroom. Maybe they’re in your bag right now.

Just because this party drug is common doesn’t mean it’s safe. A lot of people take poppers without knowing what they are or what’s in them. Because poppers aren’t perfectly legal, some brands don’t list their ingredients, so there’s no knowing exactly what’s in them. So, what’s the deal with poppers and are they bad for your health?

What are poppers? 

Poppers are liquid chemical substances that people inhale to feel good. This form of chemical inhalant, alkyl nitrite, leads to a feeling of relaxation, euphoria, and higher sexual pleasure when used. These inhalants cause blood pressure to lower quickly, and the effect they bring only lasts for a few minutes. 

As Healthline explains, in the past, poppers were used to manage heart-related symptoms, such as chest pain. They came in small glass vials and were used to treat medical issues, which still happens but is not the norm. 

Poppers live in a grey area as far as legality goes. They aren’t illegal, but selling them without a prescription is. This means that people often turn to products that can be found in stores, including: 

  • Air fresheners
  • Nail polish remover
  • Leather cleaner
  • Deodorizers
  • Liquid incenseΒ 
  • Solvents

Poppers are legal to use and sell if they’re under another name, and it’s not illegal to have poppers in your possession. As the FDA explains, in recent years, other dangerous poppers have been added to the market. Manufacturers are packaging products similarly to energy shots and energy drinks and marketing them to trick customers into thinking they’re safe.

Why do people use poppers?

One of the biggest reasons people use poppers is because of how they can benefit a sex life. Poppers relax the muscles in the body, making sex more pleasurable. That’s a significant reason why they’re loved within the queer community. For many, anal sex is simply more pleasurable on poppers. 

There are plenty of safer ways to increase your pleasure during sex. Experiment with different lubes and the amount you’re using. Ensure you’re using the proper protection for you and that it fits well, not too tight or loose. The biggest thing overall is foreplay and communicating healthily with your partner. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you like or ask what they enjoy. 

Some people don’t use poppers for assistance in sexual activity. Plenty of people use poppers because they’re seeking a head rush and euphoria. When people attend shows with live music or go out with their friends, they commonly want to chase this euphoric feeling. 

What are the side effects and risks of poppers?

Not everything that happens to the body on poppers feels good. Some people aren’t able to enjoy sex on poppers like others. They may have trouble getting or keeping an erection. Poppers can lead to many other unpleasant side effects, including: 

  • Skin irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Sinus pressure
  • Eye pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • High body temperature

Some people who use poppers have a worse experience than others. The chemicals in poppers can damage the skin and cause burns or eye damage. Even a coma or death can occur as a result of using poppers. 

If you’re on medications and use poppers, this can lead to a harmful interaction between these substances. Viagra and Cialis are especially risky. Using erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and poppers together can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death in extreme cases.  

Poppers are no exception to the one big risk of every drug: lower inhibitions. When you’re high, you might be less likely to grab protection before sex, which, depending on your partner, can lead to an STI. You may be more likely to get behind the wheel of a car when you shouldn’t or make other poor decisions. 

It’s difficult to say what the long-term effects of poppers are, but all of the above are entirely possible. Poppers can be even more risky for people who are frail, pregnant, or have heart problems and high blood pressure.  

How to consume poppers safely

Before considering using poppers in a controlled way, take note of the risks and side effects. Only you can decide if using something like poppers that is relatively safe to provide a temporary high is worth it. While there are ways to make poppers a little less dangerous, there’s not a way to consume them safely. The FDA warns against any use of poppers. 

One of the biggest things to remember is that you should never combine poppers with other medications that lower blood pressure or treat erectile dysfunction. As mentioned above, using both at the same time can cause scary problems like strokes and heart attacks. It’s best to avoid using poppers with any other nonprescribed drugs. 

Like with many other drugs, poppers hit hard. They will affect you quickly, so take things slow. You never want to ingest or swallow poppers; sniff them. Note that poppers tend to be flammable, so keep them away from cigarettes, joints, candles, lighters, or whatever flammable items you’re around. 

If you’re going to be sexually active on poppers, make sure you know that your partner is clear of any STIs or at least discuss safe sex with them. Have your protection handy, and don’t ignore your common sense for temporary pleasure. Your long-term health and safety are more important than the high poppers bring. 

If you decide to use poppers, keep these precautions in mind and be on the lookout for any scary side effects or symptoms. Seek medical care right away if you or someone you’re with has intense symptoms, gets poppers in their eyes, or swallows them. 

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