Everything You Need to Know about Poppers


With a history spanning almost 200 years, poppers have come a long way in order to become the inspiration for one of Troy Savan's most recent singles. But did you know that there's multiple formulas of poppers that act differently, or how to keep them fresher for longer? Well, we've got everything you need to know about poppers right here.

Where did poppers come from?

Amyl nitrite, the original iteration of poppers, has a history that goes back almost 200 years. Way back when in the mid 1800's, the French chemist Antoine Jérôme was cooking up a storm in his lab. Jérôme is accredited with discovering a number of things, including the element bromine, but his legacy to queer communities is solidified in the form of his discovery of Amyl Nitrite back in 1844.

Unfortunately for queers back then, discovering Amyl Nitrite is really all Jérôme did with the chemical, being far more interested in his other discoveries. It'd prove quite a while still before poppers entered the gay scene.

Fast forward a little bit to 1867, and we find ourselves in Scotland. It was here that Thomas Bruton discovered that amyl nitrite could be used to relax tense muscles. Bruton was treating patients with angina at the time, a pain caused by not getting enough blood to the muscles around the heart. He had the idea to administer amyl nitrite to his patients. It was a success! Patients claimed that the chemical formula relieved them of their pain.

Bruton published his findings, which led to amyl nitrite being produced on scale as a new medicine. This is also when we get the modern name for poppers. Patients complaining of angina would be given glass pearls that contained amyl nitrite. As soon as a patient felt pain in their chest, they would drape a hanky over the pearls and crush the glass with their fingers to release the chemicals inside and inhaling the vapours. This crushing would create a popping noise!

When did queer men start using poppers?

Amyl nitrite was used to treat angina up until the 1960's, where nitro-glycerine replaced amyl as the go-to treatment method. Industry had been producing Amyl for almost 100 years for medical purposes, but all of a sudden found themselves with no market to sell to. They had to find new customers. Luckily, the very same muscle relaxant properties used to treat angina also worked on other parts of the body, easing the pain of anal sex or using dildos.

The details on how poppers started being used by gay men at the same time are sketchy at best. One rumour is that medical students who had access to amyl nitrite at the time started using it recreationally, which is a fun little tale if nothing else. While we don't know the exact series of events that led to poppers being used by gay men, poppers propagated and became commonplace in the club scenes of the 70's and 80's. Brands such as Rush poppers got their foot in the door early and remain famous to this day.

Are poppers legal?

Popper legality is an interesting one and varies per country. In America, poppers are legal, but usually sold as a leather cleaner or video head cleaner. You'll be able to buy poppers online relatively easily, but also find them in numerous bath houses or sex shops.

In Europe, it comes down to a country by country basis. Butyl nitrite is outright banned, but you can generally find other formulas, including amyl in most countries. In 2016 poppers were at risk of being included in a crackdown on drugs bill that was being passed through the British parliament. At the last hour, a lawmaker for the governing party at the time stood up, outed himself as gay and a popper user, and said the ban would be foolish. Because of his actions it's now possible to find poppers UK wide.

In Canada, poppers are simply outright banned, and in Australia it's a bit messy. Some formulas are banned, but you can buy amyl nitrite with a prescription from a GP.

Are all poppers the same?

Not all poppers are the same! There's actually a small handful of different formulas, each with slightly different effects. Amyl nitrite is mentioned a lot above as it was the original formula used way back when, and it's still the most popular formula to this day. The problem is that it isn't necessarily the most accessible when it comes to newcomers. Amyl poppers tend to be on the stronger side of things, and the effects last longer when compared propyl and pentyl poppers.

Speaking of which, on the other end of things; propyl poppers are a bit gentler, relatively speaking. This, combined with an action time of around 10-30 seconds, compared to the couple of minutes of amyl, tend to make them the intro-friendly recommendation. Propyl poppers are pretty ubiquitous, and you'll find them almost anywhere that sells poppers.

In between amyl and propyl, you'll find pentyl poppers. As strong as Amyl but with the short duration time of propyl, pentyl poppers provide a good midway point that makes them a popular choice among fans of poppers. Pentyl poppers hit almost instantly, and give you everything they've got straight up, compared to amyl's gradually growing strength over time.

How long do poppers last?

Depending on what country your poppers are made, they may or may not come with a best before date on the bottle. Poppers are corrosive by nature, so as long as you store unopened bottles upright to avoid chemicals eating away at the seal, poppers should store for a good number of months.

Once you've opened the bottle however, the time starts ticking. Poppers will gradually begin to lose strength and freshness. You'll know when your poppers have gone off by a change of the aroma of the bottle, so make note of how they smell when you first open them. If you store your poppers properly a bottle can last up to three months.

How do I store my poppers?

As mentioned above, one of the most important things you should do is store your poppers upright as soon as you bring them home. Not only will this make them last longer, but should help avoid any smells seeping out of the bottle.

Beyond that, poppers should be stored somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight. If you live somewhere temperate or cold, a cupboard will be perfectly fine, but if it's summer, or particularly hot where you live, consider using the fridge. If you do use the fridge, poppers work best at room temperature, so make sure to let them adjust before using.

From medicine to dancefloor favourite, that's about all there is to know about poppers! With all the above you should be able to make informed decisions on not only what the best formula is for you, but also know how to get the most out of your bottle and make it last longer. Have fun!

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