Don’t do drugs. A sentence we have all heard at least once in our life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of us decided to ignore this advice. Now there are different drugs and different types of highs, but honestly, they are all unhealthy and dangerous. As mild as a drug is, there is still a chance it causes addiction, and addiction if left unattended is just the gateway to some heavier stuff. Until recently, poppers were thought of as a harmless and mild drug. Recent studies have shown that might not be the case.
Poppers are a colorless liquid that has a strong smell. They contain alkyl nitrites, and inhaling them causes a significant drop in blood pressure, a rise in heart rate, and involuntary relaxation of the muscles. This was believed to be harmless enough because they are consumed in whiffs and stick around in the system for no more than a minute or two. It is often consumed as a substitute for other party drugs like ecstasy.
Poppers are illegal in most countries around the world, but even there they are advertised as air fresheners or cleaning products to bypass sale restrictions. They are also a very popular drug among the gay community. A survey showed that more than 60 percent of gay males in Australia consumed poppers at one time or another. Another survey conducted in the United Kingdom showed that around 1.1 percent of the general population used them at least once a year. This gives the poppers fourth place in the counties top list of recreational drugs, just behind cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy.
When compared to other drugs poppers are reasonably safe. The bigger issue is that that perceived safety makes users of the drug much more careless. Even news outlets mark them as mostly safe to use, especially if you are of good health. The most significant drawbacks in popper abuse are that they can be fatal when you drink them, and they can cause burns when they come in contact with our skin. Also using them while on a drug such as Viagra is not a good idea since poppers lower blood pressure. Combining the dip in blood pressure from the poppers and the drop from drugs that treat erectile dysfunction might be fatal.
Unfortunately, inhaling the drug showed that it could cause permanent retinal damage. The first reports about this surfaced during 2010. This was backed up by several reports from users that reported a loss of vision after inhaling the drug.
The main culprit here might be the compound that has been used to produce the drug. Due to isobutyl nitrite being classified as a cancer-causing agent, it has been replaced by isopropyl nitrite.
During a study on only male subjects, it was shown that the switch to isobutyl nitrite might be to blame. Most of the men were using poppers for decades, and only recently they began having issues with their sight. These issues manifested themselves as blurriness or blind-spots which started appearing anywhere from a few hours to a few days after consuming poppers. Researchers believe that the isobutyl somehow damages the fovea. The fovea is a small pit which contains tightly packed cones. It is mostly responsible for our central vision.
Scientists are still to reveal the exact mechanism behind the toxicity of the poppers. There is also no apparent reason why isopropyl nitrite is any more toxic than isobutyl nitrite. It might be due to it triggering the production of nitric oxide. Another issue is that some of the patients reported damage in only one eye, and the fact that this kind of damage might also be caused by bright light exposure. More testing is underway.