Alkyl Nitrites are several chemical compounds including methyl nitrite, ethyl nitrite, and amyl nitrite. Poppers is a slang term given to the chemical class called alkyl nitrites that are inhaled for recreational purposes.

Alkyl nitrites were synthesized in 1844 by French chemist Antoine Jr. Balard. Scottish physician Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton then pioneered its use to treat a condition called angina pectoris. It was first prescribed to treat this condition in 1867. The pain and discomfort of angina could be reduced by using amyl nitrite to stretch the coronary arteries. This improves blood flow to the heart.

Amyl nitrite was prescribed until 1960 when the FDA waived this restriction. However, since then many pharmaceutical companies have seen widespread purchases of this drug by seemingly healthy, young people. These overwhelming reports caused the FDA to reinstate the initial prescription requirement. Alkyl nitrites are also used to treat other heart-related symptoms.


Amyl Nitrite is available in generic form. The most common side effects include dizziness, headache, and a flushed face. The suggested dosage is two to six inhalations of a capsule. Patients should not consume alcohol when taking this medication since it can interact with Amyl Nitrite. Patients should tell their doctor of all medications they are using when taking this drug. Pregnant woman should only take Amyl Nitrite when necessary and be cautious of taking this drug while breastfeeding.


Regular use of inhaled nitrites is linked to numerous adverse effects which may include:

  • Methemglobinemia, which can be life-threatening and results in an increased affinity of oxygen to heme sites and reduced ability to release oxygen to tissues. Methemoglobin concentration can cause tissue hypoxia.
  • Skin and Tracheobronchial irritation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Sinusitis
  • Temporary elevation of fluid pressure inside the eye
  • Migraine
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting

The risk of major injury caused by Alkyl nitrate is generally low yet there are severe consequences associated with it. Alkyl nitrite can cause cardiovascular depression, asphyxia, hepatorenal toxicity, arrhythmias, neurologic dysfunction, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Overdose from using this drug is not extremely common, but every time this substance is used the risk is present. It can lower blood pressure which may lead to fainting or stroke. Most overdoses are due to a mixture of alkyl nitrite and other substances. This drug can interact with prescriptions such as Viagra, resulting in low blood pressure and possible heart attack. Mixing alkyl nitrite with recreational drugs and alcohol can cause blackouts and reduce the amount of oxygen supplied to the brain.

Abuse and addiction

Alkyl nitrite has not been confirmed to cause physical dependence. The percentage of individuals addicted to alkyl nitrite is low. This drug is generally abused by individuals abusing other drugs. Although this is not a physiological addictive drug, some people may develop butyl nitrite habits which may learn to tolerance and dependence.

Poppers are considered to be some of the least harmful drugs available, yet they can still be very dangerous, especially with inappropriate use or for individuals with underlying disorders. When poppers are used as anything other than as an inhalant, it can be extremely dangerous. Butyl nitrite is extremely flammable; therefore, it can be inhaled from a cigarette dipped in poppers. Some injuries have been reported from users accidentally igniting these cigarettes.

Alkyl nitrites have albeit spurious usages in air fresheners, nail polish removers, and video head cleaners. They are legal in some countries but restricted in the US, as long as they are not advertised or intended for human consumption. Although alkyl nitrites are officially a restricted substance, they can be prescribed for medicinal reasons. Just as with most substances, overuse can lead to a variety of health problems as well, as become a gateway to more serious addictions.