While many enormous changes have occurred in the gay community over the past several decades, one constant has been the familiar smell of poppers in dance clubs, bathhouses and private parties.

Poppers play a role for some people in the experience of sexual pleasure. We use poppers to enhance pleasure, reduce pain and injury and to “let go” and enjoy sex.

Poppers are nitrite-based drugs that when inhaled, heighten the experience of pleasure and cause the dilation of cerebral blood vessels, giving the user the perception of a “rush.”

Poppers also induce the relaxation of smooth muscle and prevent spasm and injury (e.g. tearing of the inner sphincter) during receptive anal intercourse.

Poppers can be enjoyable, but like any drug, overuse can lead to problems. Some of us may experience issues resulting from frequent poppers use, including experiences of dependency on poppers for sexual pleasure.

It’s safer not use drugs at all. The reality is that many gay men continue to use poppers for sex, and probably will continue to do so. With this in mind, we have developed harm reduction tips for when you are using poppers, to keep you and your partner(s) safe.


Use of poppers is associated with an increased risk of acquiring HIV infection among MSM, particularly for the bottom. This is because using poppers opens your blood vessels wider and causes more blood to flow to your rectum, allowing for more of an opportunity for HIV to enter your bloodstream.

Poppers affects blood pressure. Many people have lost consciousness and passed out.

Poppers can interact with other drugs, especially Viagra. This has caused people to collapse and could result in death.

Swallowing it will cause poisoning and severe sickness. It also burns if it touches someone’s skin.

Poppers are flammable and should not be used near candles, lighters or cigarettes.

11 Tips to Reduce the Harms

  • Avoid swallowing poppers: Swallowing poppers can be fatal. If someone swallows poppers they need to access medical help as soon as possible. To avoid ingesting poppers, it can be helpful to soak a cotton ball with the poppers and place it in a separate container, as this reduces the possibility of splashing.
  • Avoid contact with the mouth and nose as this can cause a burn or rash. Limit frequent use which may lead to skin damage around nose and lips.
  • Sit down when using: Some people experience headaches, dizziness, and nausea from use of poppers which could cause someone to fall.
  • Go slow: The risks associated with poppers increase based on the volume used. Inhaling very large volumes can affect haemoglobin which is needed to deliver blood around your body.
  • Avoid use with other substances: Mixing any drugs can be unpredictable and can increase risks. Poppers lower blood pressure and can increase heart rate. This means that you can be at risk if you use poppers with other substances that impact on blood pressure such as cocaine or Sildenafil (Viagra) or other erectile dysfunction drugs. The interaction between these drugs be very risky since it can lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure and possible fainting or even stroke.
  • Avoid use if you have heart conditions, glaucoma or anaemia
  • Avoid smoking while using poppers and keep far away from naked flames. Poppers are flammable.
  • Before using poppers, make sure you’re in a place where no meth is available (if you’re worried that using poppers can lead to unwanted meth use).
  • If you’re comfortable doing so, talk to potential sex partners about the fact that you are into poppers, but not open to meth use.
  • Both condoms and PrEP will help prevent HIV transmission. As poppers flush blood vessels to the rectum, they increase the likelihood of rougher sex, and unplanned instances of condomless sex. If you have had condomless sex, you can start a course of PEP within 72 hours to protect from HIV.
  • Make sure to get tested regularly to know your status and to protect yourself and others.

Support & Services

If you are worried about your relationship with poppers, it is important to reach out. There are a number of non-judgemental friendly services who can help.

The Switchboard Ireland

Outhouse, 105 Capel St, Dublin 1.

The Switchboard Ireland is Ireland’s longest running support service for the LGBT+ community. LGBT+ volunteers are available 7 days a week on phone, email and online chat to offer confidential listening, support and information. Thursdays: Substance Abuse, Chems, Narcotics, Alcohol 6:30pm – 9pm.

Phone: 01 872 1055

Contact: WhatsApp @ 089 26 74 777

Email: ask@theswitchboard.ie for support & signpost by email

contact@theswitchboard.ie for other questions

The MPOWER team of peer sexual health outreach workers offer information, support and resources relating to HIV, STIs and other sexual health & wellbeing needs. The team is available to speak to you by phone, email, WhatsApp, and Zoom.

Phone: 01-8733799 and ask for the MPOWER Team (Mon-Fri 10am – 5pm)

Whatsapp: 086 065 7212 (Davy), 0866002996 (Mark), 0892291869 (Diego)

Email: mpower@hivireland.ie

Website: https://mpower.hivireland.ie

Sexual Health Centre Cork

Sexual Health Centre Cork offer the services of a dedicated Sexual Health Advisor to members of LGBTQIA+ community. Konrad Im provides sexual health advice and support in an understanding and warm environment, on a wide range of matters such as healthy relationships, sexuality, sexual dysfunction, gender and sexual identity.

You can make an appointment by sending an email to info@sexualhealthcentre.com, calling the Sexual Health Centre on 021 427 5837 or contacting Konrad directly at konradim@sexualhealthcentre.com

Visit the National Directory of Drugs and Alcohol Services and find a local service to help you

Drugs helpline: Freefone 1800 459 459

Further information at http://www.drugs.ie/drugtypes/drug/poppers_stimulant

or from the drugs helpline: Freefone 1800 459 459