Friday, April 21, 2000

Poppers: What You Need To Know About The Little Brown Bottle

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #128, April 21, 2000)

This issue’s column is not just for the leather/SM community, and it’s not just for guys. It’s for anyone—of any gender—who uses poppers. For the uninitiated, the name “poppers” refers to any of several nitrite chemicals which cause a “rush” when inhaled. Amyl nitrate is the oldest and was first developed for relief from angina (heart pain). It is a clear golden liquid usually sold in a cloth-covered glass capsule; when the capsule is crushed (or popped, which is where “poppers” comes from), the liquid soaks into the cloth and the vapors are inhaled. Since 1979 amyl nitrate has been legally available only with a doctor’s prescription.

Why do poppers do what they do? They’re vasodilators, which means they cause blood vessels to enlarge and make the heart beat faster, sending large amounts of blood and oxygen rushing through the heart and brain. That euphoric “rush” feeling comes on quickly and only lasts a few minutes. Poppers also relax smooth muscle tissue, and some people use them during anal sex to relax their anal sphincter.

When amyl nitrate became a controlled substance, recreational users switched to butyl nitrate or one of several other related nitrite chemicals. These are sold in small brown glass bottles under such names as “Rush,” “Locker Room,” “Aroma of Man” or “Pig Sweat.” These chemicals get around controlled-substances laws by clever labeling—you’re not buying an inhaled stimulant, you’re buying something else like “liquid incense,” a “room odorizer,” “video head cleaner,” or the latest ruse: “polish remover.” That allows it to be sold even though both buyer and seller know that it won’t be used as an Airwick substitute and that you haven’t had polish on your nails since Halloween in 1987.

But “room odorizers” don’t require, and therefore don’t get, the kind of warning labels that would have to be attached if everyone could be upfront about what was being sold, and the way in which it was being used. This column does not advocate drug abuse, but it also doesn’t advocate ignorance, so here’s what those warning labels would say if they could:

“Contents are Highly Flammable. Do not use around open flame.” Movie buffs may remember that movie film was originally nitrate-based and had a penchant for bursting into flames for no apparent reason. Nitrates are also used in dynamite and other explosives. Poppers, which are also nitrates, evaporate very quickly and the vapors are very flammable. So if you’re using poppers, don’t have candles or incense burning at the same time, no matter how romantic it is. Don’t use poppers in a basement dungeon that’s right next to the furnace or water heater. Don’t smoke tobacco, marijuana, or anything else while you’re using poppers. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t use them during a fireplay or hot-wax scene.

“Do not allow contact with skin. If contact occurs, wash off immediately. Do not swallow or inject.” Most people uncap the bottle of poppers and put it up to their nose to inhale the vapors, while other people inhale the vapors through their mouth. Either way, be careful not to spill the liquid or let it splash out of the bottle—it can cause a nasty chemical burn on skin and can do even worse damage on mucous membranes like the inside of your nose or mouth. It’s very toxic, so if it gets in your mouth, don’t swallow it, and don’t use it as an injectable drug.

“May cause headache, flushing of the face, decreased blood pressure, increased pulse rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, fainting, slowed perception of time, coldness of the skin and swelling of the nasal passages. Long-term effects may include a rash around the nose, mouth, or cheeks. Discontinue use if any of these symptoms occur.

“Also discontinue use if the desired results are not achieved. Tolerance may build up over time, with heavy use putting a strain on the heart, possibly leading to circulatory collapse and death.

“Poppers increase pressure within the eyeball and therefore should not be used by anyone with glaucoma. Do not use poppers if you suffer from heart problems, high or low blood pressure, anemia, or breathing problems. There are some indications that poppers inhibit the immune system and should not be used by people with suppressed immune systems, but this has not been conclusively demonstrated.

“Do not use Viagra in combination with poppers (or with other prescription nitrate-based heart drugs). The combination can cause a fatal drop in blood pressure.” On the Web I found a letter to physicians from Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, discussing this issue. Here’s what it says: “Although we have not specifically studied this, we believe that nitrates that are inhaled for recreational use (including amyl nitrate/nitrite or “poppers” and others) will have the same effect [as has been observed with prescription nitrite drugs] when combined with Viagra.” And this warning doesn’t apply only to men—the letter goes on to say “In addition, although Viagra is only FDA approved for the treatment of male erectile dysfunction, we are aware that women have started taking it, either on their own or via an off-label prescription from a physician. Therefore, although the scenarios described above would be more likely to occur in men, if such off-label use continues, they could also occur in women.” One final ironic note: Poppers may have a reputation for enhancing orgasm, but because they dilate blood vessels and decrease blood pressure they can actually be the cause of the “erectile dysfunction” that the Viagra is supposed to fix.

Finally, here’s what the 1999 Minnesota Statutes say about poppers (chapter 609.684): In Subdivision 1 both amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate are defined as “toxic substances,” and Subdivision 3 says “A person is guilty of a misdemeanor who uses or possesses any toxic substance with the intent of inducing intoxication, excitement, or stupefaction of the central nervous system, except under the direction and supervision of a medical doctor. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor who intentionally aids another in violation of this subdivision.” So in case the dungeon is ever raided, just remember this alibi: “But Officer, I was only doing my nails!”

Mark Your Calendar and Make Your Reservations

Knights of Leather Tournament 12 Run. May 19-21.

International Mr. Leather Contest, Chicago. May 26-29 (Memorial Day Weekend). FFI: or (800) 545-6753.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, April 23

Atons Stuff Your Basket Party
6-10 pm, The Saloon
$50 bar tab for the winner of the best basket contest. Door prizes, free food and 75-cent tap beer & soda. FFI:

Saturday, April 29

Atons Road Trip/Bar Night: Kansas City
At the new Dixie Belle bar
Travel to Kansas City with the Atons and check out the Dixie Belle’s new location. FFI:

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