Amyl nitrite is a clear, yellowish and highly flammable liquid, with a sweet/strong fruity smell. Originally used in the treatment of angina and cyanide poisoning, it is rarely used today as a prescribed medicine.
Amyl nitrite emerged as a substance of misuse during the 1970s disco era and has been associated with the rave and nightclub scene throughout the 1980s and 90s, particularly within the gay community.
Amyl nitrite is often not considered as 'volatile substance use' as it is generally used by a very specific group of users for the purpose of increasing sexual euphoria.
Amyl nitrite is also known as ‘amyl’, ‘poppers’, ‘snappers’ and ‘rush’. It usually comes in liquid form in either a small bottle or small glass capsule which makes a popping sound when crushed, gaining the slang term of ‘poppers’. Amyl nitrite is often sold as video head cleaner, leather cleaner or room deodoriser.
Amyl nitrite is a vasodilator. This means that it expands the blood vessels resulting in dramatically lowered blood pressure and relaxation of smooth muscles, particularly anal and vaginal muscles. Amyl nitrite also has psychoactive (mood altering) effects.
The effects are felt within seconds and dissipate within a few minutes.
Short-term effects include a rush of warmth, feeling of euphoria, flushed face, dizziness and reduced inhibitions. Some people may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, coughing, extremely low blood pressure, depressed breathing, shortness of breath, fainting, nose bleeds, erectile dysfunction and rapid heart rate.
Long-term effects can include bronchitis and permanent neurological damage. Amyl nitrite suppresses the immune system and long-term use has been linked to increased rates of cancer including Kaposi’s sarcoma.
It is illegal to sell amyl nitrite for the purpose of inhaling, although it can be found in some sex shops, drug paraphernalia shops, men’s saunas and online. As it is illegal, it is usually sold as leather cleaner, room odouriser or liquid incense. As a medication, amyl nitrites are schedule 4 drugs requiring a prescription for possession or use.
Method of use
Amyl nitrite is usually inhaled through the nose or mouth, directly from the bottle or a container, or on a piece of cloth soaked with the substance.
Amyl nitrite does not have a withdrawal effect so is often used to combat the effects of the 'come-down' from other stimulants.
There is no specific data collection on amyl nitrite use in Australia. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that most amyl nitrite use is limited to quite a distinct group of adults who use for the purpose of increasing sexual euphoria.
Combining amyl nitrite with amphetamine-type stimulants, such as cocaine and ecstasy can cause increased heart rate, leading to a cardiac arrest and therefore can be fatal.
Using in conjunction with Viagra can lead to death due to the interactive effect between the two drugs and the effect of amyl nitrite on blood vessels (Department of Human Services, 2003).
Amyl nitrite is extremely poisonous when swallowed and deaths have been reported.
When inhaled, vapours from amyl nitrite can cause burns to the mouth, nose, throat and lungs. The liquid can also cause burns on contact with the skin.
Amyl nitrite is commonly used to reduce inhibitions which can lead to risky behaviours. Decreased inhibitions may also result in unsafe sexual practices which increases the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses. As amyl nitrite dilates the smooth muscles in the body, blood-borne viruses are more easily passed on through unsafe sexual practices.
For information about how to reduce harms, see the Reducing VSU harm page of this website.