Poppers are used by inhaling the fumes into the nostril. DO NOT swallow the poppers liquid. If you do, call Poison Control immediately on 0800 764 766 and seek emergency medical attention.
Key things to know
Wait a while between hits - frequent and repeated use can increase unpleasant effects and it may take longer for them to pass▼ Safer using
Be careful to avoid spilling, as the liquid can cause burns or rashes if it contacts your skin directly
Avoid using poppers if you've taken erectile dysfunction meds (Viagra, Cialis), blood pressure or heart medicines▼ Mixing drugs
Avoid open flames and ignition sources such as cigarettes, as poppers are highly flammable
What to expect
How do poppers make you feel?
Poppers can make you feel a rush of euphoria, warmth in your body and sexually aroused. The effects usually last 2-5 minutes. As poppers dilate (open) your blood vessels and relax smooth muscles you may feel decreased discomfort during receptive anal sex. Poppers also decrease your blood pressure, which can cause dizziness, fuzziness, or a thumping feeling in your head.
Most effects (pleasant and unpleasant) come on immediately and are very short-lived. More severe effects are rare and most likely to occur when poppers are use repeatedly or continually in one ‘session’.
|"Rush" of euphoria
|Headaches (especially after the initial ‘rush’)
|Warming sensations (especially in the face)
|Feelings of excitement
|Involuntary muscle relaxation (especially in the muscles in the anus)
|Low blood pressure
|Nostril redness or irritation
(repeated use in one session)
|Increased “rush” of euphoria
|Increased risk of skin irritation (especially in the nostril area)
|Longer lasting or more intense headaches
|Enhanced muscle relaxation (particularly for receptive anal sex)
|Difficulty maintaining erections
|Increased dizziness, light-headedness or feeling like you may faint
Very high dose
(continual use during a session)
|Maintaining muscle relaxation for longer periods of time
|Rash around the mouth, eyes or nostrils
|Decreased sexual inhibitions
|Shortness of breath
|Having pale or blue skin*
|Feeling faint or fainting
|Loss of consciousness*
|Weakness in your body*
*These are symptoms of a rare effect of continual use of poppers called methemoglobinemia, a condition affecting how red blood cells deliver oxygen to the body. It can be very dangerous, especially if left untreated.
How can you be safer when using poppers?
There are many things you can do when using poppers to keep yourself safer.
Poppers should only ever be used by sniffing the fumes – do not drink the liquid, as it is highly toxic and can cause blindness, brain damage, organ failure, or death. If you or someone around you swallows poppers liquid, call 111 and/or Poison Control 0800 764 766 and seek medical attention immediately.
Try not to spill!
The liquid in poppers can cause burns or rashes if it comes into contact with your skin. Whether you are using them on the dance floor, or in the bedroom, keep your movement to a minimum while you are inhaling the fumes. If a spill does happen wash or rinse the area of your body with water as soon as possible. Consider using Vaseline in your nostrils to prevent irritation from inhaling.
Avoid using around open flames (including cigarettes).
Poppers are extremely flammable, so it’s important to keep any open flame or ignition source that they may accidentally spill on far away from you when using.
Avoid dangerous combinations with other drugs.
As poppers lower your blood pressure, they shouldn’t be combined with medications that affect blood pressure. This includes erectile dysfunction medication (i.e. Viagra/Cialis), blood pressure and some heart medicines. These can drop your blood pressure levels dangerously low and cause you to pass out.
Know what you are using.
There are lots of different types of alkyl nitrites out there, such as amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite and octyl nitrite. Poppers were made illegal for general sale in 2020. This means that you can only legally access them by requesting them from your GP and importing them with a prescription. Body Positive has great advice on how to follow through with the GP process. If you are getting poppers elsewhere you can bring them to a drug checking clinic. You’ll want to bring the whole bottle to keep things sealed (but we will only use a few drops!).
If you’ve had too much
What happens if you take too many hits of poppers?
It is very rare for poppers to cause an overdose when used as intended (i.e. the fumes are inhaled). In most cases, taking frequent and repeated hits can cause you to develop a skin rash, or leave you feeling dizzy/lightheaded and a bit out of breath.
Poppers can cause chest pains, fainting and/or loss of consciousness, vision issues or seizures. This generally happens when poppers are swallowed but in rare cases can occur when poppers are inhaled continually for a long period of time.
If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:
- Is having chest pain
- Has very pale or blue skin or fingertips
- Is experiencing vision issues or blindness
- Has a seizure
- Is breathing very slowly, or having trouble breathing
- Loses consciousness or faints
Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
What do comedowns from poppers feel like, and how can you feel better?
As the effects of poppers are very short-lived, there are very few reports of comedowns. The most common effects after using can be headaches or thumping in the head- mainly due to blood pressure changes.
You may also find you have a rash on your face, or soreness in your nostril area. Keep the affected areas moisturized and seek advice from your GP if they are persistent or get worse.
- Have a persistent headache
- Feel light-headed
You can try...
- Get plenty of rest and sleep.
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water.
- Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals.
- Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support.
- Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs.
Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings
What are the long-term effects of using poppers?
Long-term effects from poppers are relatively rare. However, long-term use or large amounts can cause persistent redness or rashes around the nostrils, eyes, or lips. In rare cases, it can cause methemoglobinemia (a blood disorder that results in poor oxygen supply to body tissue), and a rare risk of extended vision loss known as ‘poppers maculopathy’.
Regular use of poppers can be riskier if you have anaemia, a heart condition, blood pressure conditions, head injuries, glaucoma or are pregnant.
If you are using poppers for receptive anal sex, you may find that you become reliant on them to have an enjoyable experience. If this is the case for you, you may want to take some time to reflect on whether it is impacting you, your sexual partner/partners or your sex life in general.
Can you get addicted to poppers?
Even regular use of poppers is unlikely to lead to dependence. Poppers aren’t known to lead to physiological dependence. However, some people who regularly use them in a sexual context (particularly for receptive anal sex) may feel as if they need poppers to have an enjoyable experience. If you feel like this is the case for you, it might be a good idea to take a bit of time to reflect on the context you use in and talk to someone about alternative ways to reach the same effect.
Working and driving
How can poppers affect your daily activities?
Poppers are very short lived (a few minutes at most), so are very unlikely to impact your work or driving unless you’re using them while doing so.
It’s always a good idea to wait for a short period after using before driving, working, or operating machinery to allow any aftereffects such as headaches to subside.
Are poppers illegal?
Poppers were previously legal under general sales until they were restricted in early 2020. Poppers are still legal as a prescription medicine in New Zealand and can be requested from your GP; however, there are currently no approved medicinal products that can be sold as poppers. You can use your prescription to import unapproved products from overseas, in limited quantities. You can read more about how to import poppers here.
If you buy, sell, import or make poppers without a prescription this is illegal under the Medicines Act.
To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, including cannabis see Drugs and the law.