Last published: June 27, 2019
What is amyl nitrite?
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 nitroglycerine.1,2
Amyl nitrite is a vasodilator. Vasodilators are medicines that cause the blood vessels in the body to dilate and the involuntary smooth muscles to relax.3,4
Poppers, liquid gold, rush, purple haze and buzz.
How is it used?
Amyl nitrite is used medically in some cardiac procedures, including treatment for cyanide poisoning,2 as well as for angina.2,4
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 minutes.4
What does it look like?
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 socks.2
Historically, amyl nitrite has been primarily used by men who have sex with men.1,4 This trend is still common; however, it has also become a common ‘party drug’ that is used more widely.5
Effects of amyl nitrite
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:
- size, weight and health
- whether the person is used to taking it
- whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- the amount taken
- the strength of the drug
- amount of fresh air breathed while inhaling
- amount of physical activity before and after inhaling.
The effects of amyl nitrate include:
- initial ‘rush’ of euphoria
- flushing of the face
- increased heart rate
- warming sensations
- feelings of excitement
- relaxation of involuntary muscles, especially the anal and vaginal sphincter
- psychological effects include increased sensual awareness, visual distortions, lowered inhibitions and impaired judgement
- some people may experience nose bleeds, respiratory problems or nausea after inhaling amyl nitrite.4,5
Headaches are common once the ‘high’ passes.2
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 tissue.1 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 vapour.2 This can look like a skin irritation.2 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 effects.2,5 There is also a risk of fluid pressure build-up within the eye, and for people who have underlying glaucoma, this risk is further increased.1
Using amyl nitrite with other drugs
The effects of using amyl nitrite with other drugs – including over-the-counter or prescribed medications – can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could include:
- Amyl nitrite + Viagra or other erectile dysfunction medications: a high risk that the person will lose consciousness due to a sudden and extreme drop in blood pressure.4,5 This may require immediate medical attention – call 000 in case of emergency.
- Amyl nitrite + amphetamine: increased strain on the heart and places the body under excess stress.1
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 system.1,2,3,4,5
Health and safety
Some people are unaware of how amyl nitrite should be used and incorrect use can be fatal.3
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 pressure.3 It is a powerful irritant that can lead to burns to the face, skin and eyes.3,4
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.
Help and support
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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:
- take away inhalants and related equipment
- pick up young people who are misusing inhalants, and release them into the care of a responsible person, or a place of safety.
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.
State/territory legislation on inhalant sales
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.
See also, drugs and the law.
- In 2016, 4.2% of Australians aged 14 years or older had used inhalants in their lifetime.6
- Between 2001 and 2016, general inhalant use among Australians aged 14 years or older has increased from 0.4% to 1%.6
- In 2009, the prevalence of amyl nitrite use among gay and homosexually active men was at 32%.7
- (2017, February 2). Alcohol & Drugs: Amyl. Retrieved from TouchBase
- Upfal, J. (2016). Australian Drug Guide (8th Edition ed.). Melbourne: Black Inc.
- National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (2018). Amyl Nitrite. Retrieved from PubChem Open Chemistry Database
- Williams, J. F., Storck, M., Committee on Substance Abuse, & Committee on Native American Child Health. (2007). Inhalant Abuse. American Academy of Paediatrics, 119(5), 1009-1017.
- Global Information Network About Drugs. (n.d.). Amyl Nitrite. Retrieved February 2, 2018, from Global Information Network About Drug
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: Detailed Findings. Canberra: AIHW. Retrieved from AIHW
- Holt, M., Mao, L., Prestage, G., Zablotska, I., & de Wit, J. (2011). Gay Community Periodic Surveys: National Report 2010. Sydney: National Centre in HIV Social Research.