Amyl and Butyl nitrite are highly volatile and flammable liquids derived from the chemical nitrous oxide. They are obtained medically in small vials which are snapped and the fumes inhaled. This is how the have gained the street names of "poppers" and "snappers". However, for the non-medical use of nitrites, the substances are usually bought in bottles with screw tops.
Medically, nitrites were used in the treatment of angina till the 1950's. The non-medical use was first noted among the gay community in the USA, where it was believed nitrites sustained orgasm. The succession of more effective drugs in the treatment of angina has meant that supplies are not carried by chemists, and are not readily available on prescription or over-the-counter.
SHORT TERM EFFECTS
On inhalation, the fumes pass from the lungs into the blood stream and to the heart Although little is known about the physical drug action, it is regarded by users as a sexual aid to prolong orgasm. The drug seems to lower inhibitions, and relax the body while increasing the supply of oxygen to the heart. Immediate side effects can occur, such as dizziness, coughing, nausea and headaches as blood vessels are rapidly dilated.
LONG TERM EFFECTS
Very little is known about tolerance to the stimulant effects of the nitrites, but it is believed that it does develop to the ability of the drug to dilate blood vessels Psychological dependence is likely to play a part in long term use, but at present, physical dependence with withdrawal syndrome have not been reported
The growth in the use of nitrites seems to have occurred simultaneously with the spread of the HIV AIDS virus among the gay community in the USA. This has lead some studies to suggest that prolonged use of the nitrites stresses the immune system, thus increasing the chances of a sexually active user contracting AIDS. Evidence on this is inconclusive.