When Poppers are not Poppers

Emily Newman
Original Article:  bit.ly/1F7vY3s

In the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, a team of researchers report on an a potentially dangerous product that’s being marketed towards gay men: poppers that aren’t actually poppers. These new products—advertised or described as poppers and sold online by retailers that also sell poppers—have more serious health consequences than the traditional amyl nitrite-based poppers oftentimes used recreationally by gay men to enhance sex.

Traditional poppers have been popular among gay men since the seventies. Popular brands such as “Rush” and “Jungle Juice” are sold online and in sex shops catering to gay men as “video head cleaners” or “room odorizers.” These traditional poppers contain amyl nitrite, a chemical that relaxes smooth muscle tissue and dilates blood vessels.

“Traditional nitrite poppers are fairly benign for most users,” explains Timothy Hall, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. He specifies that there are case reports from people, such as those who have a genetic disorder called G6PD deficiency, who experience sudden anemia due to ruptured red blood cells with popper use. “But, it’s relatively rare. If you’re looking at the medical complications of poppers, for a few people there are potentially clinically significant problems. But the vast majority of gay men who have used them feel like the worst thing that is likely to happen is that they’ll get a headache.”

The problem with the emerging trend reported by Hall and colleagues is that these “new poppers” aren’t poppers at all. Instead of amyl nitrite, they contain solvents such as ethyl chloride, and the products are sprayed into a rag or bag and then “huffed.” Hall explains that these aerosol products have a different physiological effect on the body, and can cause—in rare cases—death through heart arrhythmia. It’s more likely, says Hall, that they will cause significant and potentially permanent cognitive problems like memory loss, or liver, kidney, and nerve damage.

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