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Poppers: dangerous adverse effects

The use of poppers (amyl nitrite, etc.) as sexual stimulants can result in visual, cardiac, respiratory and blood disorders.

Poppers are volatile aromatic substances (amyl nitrite) sold on the Internet, in sex-shops and in some clubs. The effects sought are sexual highs, related to relaxation of smooth muscles, vasodilation, euphoria and loss of inhibitions. Poppers act rapidly (15 seconds) and the effect is brief (5 to 10 minutes). Consumption appears to be on the rise.

Between 1999 and 2009, French toxicology centres collected details of 794 cases of exposure to poppers, with clinical manifestations in 715 cases. 133 of these were severe, with 5 deaths. The severe cases ranged from damage to the haemoglobin (50 cases), cyanosis (42), coma (29), respiratory disorder (13), acute respiratory distress (3), severe arterial hypotension (10), convulsions (9), arrhythmia (7), blindness or reduced visual acuity (3).

In total, 36 cases of visual disorders were reported. Reduced visual acuity was reported in 32 cases, coloured vision with bright spots (17) and light intolerance (7). The time it took for these symptoms to appear after consumption of the poppers ranged from immediately to 3 days. An ophthalmic examination was carried out in 21 cases and all showed a decrease in visual acuity. When the rest of the history was available, just over half the patients still had symptoms after two weeks on average.

The fact is that taking poppers does not result in pleasure alone.

©Prescrire 1 May 2011

"Poppers: methaemoglobinaemia; respiratory, cardiac and visual disorders" Prescrire Int 2011; 20 (116): 127 (pdf, subscribers only)

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