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Last updated : May 21, 2018
Amyl nitrite is a depressant which means it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and body. Classified as an inhalant, it belongs to a class of drugs known as nitrates, which also includes butyl nitrite, isobutyl nitrate and nitroglycerine1,2.
Amyl nitrite is a vasodilator. Vasodilators are medicines that cause the blood vessels in the body to dilate and the involuntary smooth muscles to relax3,4.
Poppers, liquid gold, rush, purple haze and buzz.
Amyl nitrite is used medically in some cardiac procedures, including treatment for cyanide poisoning2, as well as for angina2,4.
Recreationally, it is used to enhance sexual experience or to experience a general sense of pleasure. The effects are felt within 30 seconds of taking the drug, and last for around 2-3 minutes4.
Amyl nitrite is an extremely flammable and highly volatile oil, that is clear in colour and is commonly inhaled from a small glass bottle. It typically has a distinct smell similar to dirty socks2.
Historically, amyl nitrite has been primarily used by men who have sex with men1,4. This trend is still common; however, it has also become a common ‘party drug’ that is used more widely5.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Amyl nitrite will affect everyone differently, based on:
The effects of amyl nitrate include:
Headaches are common once the ‘high’ passes2.
The level of harm from the long term use of amyl nitrite is generally low, however some of the long term effects can range from mild allergic reactions to potentially life threatening methaeglobinaemia – a blood disorder that can lead to inadequate oxygen supply to body tissue1. Frequent use can also cause a rash to form around the mouth, nose and eyes, or any skin that regularly comes into contact with the vapour2. This can look like a skin irritation2. Direct fluid contact with skin can cause burns and should be avoided.
People who are anaemic, pregnant, have high blood pressure, or have increased pressure within the skull (head injury or brain haemorrhage) should avoid using amyl nitrite as this can increase the risk of harmful effects2,5. There is also a risk of fluid pressure build-up within the eye, and for people who have underlying glaucoma, this risk is further increased1.
The effects of using amyl nitrite with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could include:
Regular use of amyl nitrite use does not result in dependence. People who use it regularly will not experience withdrawal symptoms, however it may take a few days for their body to get used to not having the drug in their system1,2,3,4,5.
Some people are unaware of how amyl nitrite should be used and incorrect use can be fatal3.
Amyl nitrite liquid should not be ingested i.e. do not swallow, as it is a highly poisonous substance that can lead to a dramatic drop in blood pressure3. It is a powerful irritant that can lead to burns to the face, skin and eyes3,4.
If your use of amyl nitrite is affecting your health, family, relationships, work, school, financial or other life situations, you can find help and support.
Inhalant use is not a criminal offence in any Australian state or territory.
In recent years, some Australian states and territories have revised police powers to intervene in inhalant use in two main ways. Police are authorised to:
It is also illegal in some states and territories to sell or supply products to someone if they believe they are to be used for inhaling.
It is an offence in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory to knowingly supply an inhalant to a person for the purpose of intentional inhalation. There is no specific legislation in the ACT that refers directly to inhalant abuse, only legislation referring to intoxicated persons.