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Yeah, I Feel the Rush, but What Are Poppers Anyway?

Ever wonder, “Exactly what are poppers?” Here’s some pre-sniff research that will help you make a more informed decision on partaking.
Editorial team
November 14, 2023
May 21, 2024
min. read
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Maybe (but probably not) you’ve just learned that poppers are a thing. Maybe you hooked up with a guy who used them, your friends offered them to you at a bar, or you embarrassed yourself by talking to your crush about how much you also like jalapeño poppers. 

But have you ever wondered what exactly poppers are? And what are poppers used for — outside the bedroom? And what are poppers made out of? (Hint: It isn’t peppers and cream cheese.)

This mysterious concoction is a staple in the gay community, making its rounds through gaggles of gays like the pass-around party bottoms who swear by it as part of their pre-sex routine

But jungle juice isn’t for the faint of heart — quite literally. And it’s not just for bottoms, either. But the million-dollar question is: Is it for you? Let’s take a closer look at what poppers really are so you know whether you’d like to pop or pass.

What are poppers?

Poppers is the colloquial term for amyl nitrite, a liquid drug that emits vapors which, when huffed, cause blood vessels to widen and smooth muscles (like those around the throat and anus) to relax.

Poppers are intrinsically tied with the LGBTQ community and club scene. You’ll usually find them used as a way to facilitate more comfortable anal sex, hence why they’re so commonly used by queer folk and why you’re finding this article on Grindr. 

But it’s not exclusive to the gay community by any means: People of all ages and sexual orientations use poppers for various reasons, including to enhance sexual arousal or produce more powerful orgasms.

The evidence for poppers doing this is highly anecdotal, and not everyone will have the same experience. Still, their widespread use means they must be doing something, right?

Are poppers safe?

To put it bluntly, not really. This recreational inhalant can cause severe side effects way beyond a receptive rump. Taking poppers can cause everything from temporary vision loss to death — not exactly a great way to ease your pre-coital performance anxiety. Combining poppers with other recreational drugs or prescription medications complicates things even further. 

We’re mentioning this because some might get the bright idea to combine drugs like Cialis or Viagra with poppers, but the vasodilator can significantly increase the risk of acute cardiovascular complications.

It’s not particularly safe to take with alcohol either, which is another drug commonly paired with it. The combination can drop your blood pressure to dangerously low levels and might worsen other side effects, like lightheadedness and dizziness. If your blood pressure drops low enough, you could faint or lose consciousness.

Although the drug does help your muscles relax, letting you skip some foreplay when time is unkind to your sexual desires, it is by no means safe. That said, people will continue to use poppers just like anything else that isn’t particularly good for you. So, more realistically, it’s vital to use poppers responsibly and avoid them if you feel like you’re at risk for complications.

Side effects for tops and bottoms

So, how exactly do poppers pop off? They give a near-instant high when inhaled and act as a vasodilator, meaning they allow blood vessels to expand. This can cause multiple reactions in the body, including increased heart rate, lightheadedness, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or a warming sensation throughout the body.


Here’s a quick list of common unwanted side effects you might experience after you take poppers, especially if you use them for long periods:

  • Allergic reactions: As with anything, you could be allergic to poppers. Anyone with a history of allergic reactions to strong chemicals could find themselves having to deal with another.
  • Headaches: When you use amyl nitrite, the blood vessels expand everywhere in your body, including your noggin. The widening can create pressure in your skull and cause headaches. These headaches may last well beyond the euphoric effects of the poppers.
  • Respiratory issues: Poppers contain strong chemicals that can irritate your respiratory system. Inhaling them can cause sinus problems, breathing complications, and wheezing.
  • Skin lesions: Amyl nitrite fumes can affect the skin around your nose or lips. Although you typically won’t see lesions after one use, you could eventually develop them in any exposed areas. Nosebleeds are also a common side effect that can be brought on both acutely and with long-term use.

This list is by no means comprehensive. Some less common side effects, like chest pain, angina, or maculopathy, can be genuinely scary. Be cautious if you plan to try poppers for yourself.

Common brands of poppers

What are poppers called in stores? If you go into most places and search for them, you’d likely come up empty-handed. Like other improvised sexual aids, any stores that carry them won’t advertise them as such.

There’s a reason for this. After all, what are poppers? Drugs. So, to evade some of the more stringent rules around selling them, many stores rebrand them as something less egregious. They may be sold as “nail polish remover,” “leather polish,” or (our personal favorite) “videotape head cleaner.”

An adult novelty store might be more forthcoming, making it an excellent place to buy poppers. Sex-positive workers will likely point you in the direction of something that will clear out a lot more than just your sinuses.

Let’s walk through some common popper brands so you don’t have to guess if you’re getting the right stuff.

Double Scorpio

This unique and trendy brand is pure isobutyl nitrite. It’s for hooking up — plain and simple. Some brands are great for getting that head rush at the club, but this one is best enjoyed in the bedroom. Or at the club, if bedroom activities are happening. It’s good to be ready for anything. 

Jungle Juice

Although Jungle Juice is arguably one of the most popular poppers you can buy, it’s not necessarily as enjoyable or hole-sumly made as the Double Scorpio products. Still, it’ll get the deed done, albeit in a way akin to eating tofu when you want steak.

Man Scent

Jungle Juice’s black-label popper option, Man Scent, is for those who have time to kill and seed to spill. The Man Scent experience is a grower, not a shower, but it’ll get you going once it gets going.

Super Rush

A great thing about this brand is that it says nail polish remover right on it, despite having the graphic design elements of an energy drink. This is a cheaper brand, and sometimes you get what you pay for. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t still enjoy yourself; anything is possible.

Poppers in pop culture

If we’re talking popper representation in pop culture, it’s certainly not very in-your-face. Depending on their age bracket and sexual orientation, people may have no clue what poppers are because they haven’t been exposed to them.

But it’s there if you look for it. And since gay culture and poppers are intrinsically entwined, it’s a lot easier for us to find. A fantastic example is Troye Sivan and his song “Rush.”

Is this undeniably iconic queer love anthem about experiencing a lover’s touch that you can’t get enough of? Or is it about the inhalants that facilitated that touch? Honestly, both. Sivan even mentions that he took a hit of poppers before he did the shoot for the “Rush” single cover. It’s a beautiful picture, and you can clearly tell he’s over the moon in it.

It’s not just the modern era that’s shining a light on amyl nitrate. In the John Waters film Pink Flamingos, you can see Divine partaking in a bit of a rush herself. And the references to poppers in movies don’t stop there. Classics like Hannibal and Fight Club also reference amyl nitrate.

We can’t talk about gay pop culture without at least mentioning Queer as Folk. Episodes are riddled with popper use, which makes sense considering the content and target audience. But in terms of drug use on that show, poppers are pretty tame, all things considered.

The same could be said for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which also features popper use as an amuse-bouche to a smorgasbord of other illicit drugs. 

Once you pop…

Poppers are used by people everywhere, but they’re still, by and large, a pretty gay thing. Still, it’s crucial to remember that engaging with this drug is risky behavior. As long as you’re comfortable knowing the facts regarding amyl nitrate, then bottoms up!

You know what else offers a rush like no other? Connecting with that cutie you always eye-fuck on your walk home from work. And you know where you can find him? Well, other than on your walk home from work… That’s right — Grindr!

Download the Grindr app, or browse hands-free with Grindr Web—the same Grindr you know and love, now available on your laptop or PC with no download required. All those matches will be music to your ears.

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