How £3.99 party drugs made their way into mainstream culture

It’s not uncommon to see tiny, colorful bottles with unknown contents circulating around a group of friends at nightclubs across the country.

While they may look like micro-energy drinks, they’re actually “poppers,” a popular drug choice among the LGBT+ community and others for decades. When inhaled, they cause a short-term head rush, increased sexual sensation, and are often associated with sexual activity. However, poppers weren’t designed for people in clubs.

The liquid, also known as alkyl nitrate, was originally developed as a medicine to treat angina pectoris, a condition that causes chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart . The recreational use of poppers appeared in the 1970s among clubbers.

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We spoke to experts and people who use poppers to explore their safety and legality – and see how they’ve caught on with large swathes of the community on nights out.

When poppers are inhaled, the body turns them into a chemical that opens up blood vessels and drops blood pressure dramatically. As a knock-on effect, the heart begins to beat rapidly to bring the pressure back down, leaving you looking flushed, excitable and relaxed on the outside.

Clubbers say they feel hot and tingle with a brief sense of euphoria, a feeling Owen Taylor knows all too well. Hotel supervisor, from Port Sunlight, Wirral first took poppers aged 18 at Liverpool Pride in Garlands. He uses them since but only during his night outings.

He told ECHO: “They give you a euphoric feeling for about 20 seconds, it makes your body extremely hot, I’ve always joked about calling them bottled central heating.” The travel and tourism student is aware of the dangers that come with heavy use, but said he doesn’t use them regularly enough for it to be a problem.

He added: “I feel like it enhances the experience when you take them with loud music, especially trance, because it’s a euphoria-based genre. I know a lot of people use them for sexual experiments, but it’s never something I’m interested in, it’s a music enhancement drug for me.

Owen Taylor said he sees no problem with poppers being sold without a prescription as long as they are not sold to those under 18.

Poppers, sometimes called a ‘rush’, are sold legally in shops and bars on Merseyside as the £3.99 bottle is marketed as an air freshener or cleaner. The bottles can be found in different sizes and are all childproof and marked as ‘not for human consumption’. Possession is not illegal but supplying poppers for human consumption may be an offence.

Lauren, 27, first tried poppers as a teenager at a night out in Bristol. She wanted to feel more relaxed because often when she meets new people, her anxiety can kick in.

The waitress, who now lives in Toxteth, said she was “apprehensive” at first because she wasn’t sure what it was but, finding out it was a “legal” high, she tried them. The animal behavior student has had a “strange look” when sniffing them at nightclubs in the past, but thinks it’s because of people assuming she’s snorting illegal drugs. However, on one night in particular, she felt “the whole club” staring at her as her lips and fingertips turned blue.

She added: “I gave myself a headache and threw up. I took a lot in a very short time and felt extremely dizzy. It didn’t help, I had a lot from Jagerbombs around the same time, so I threw up all in my buddy’s purse and had to sit outside in the fresh air.”

Harry Sumnall, a professor of addiction at the John Moore University Institute of Public Health, told ECHO the reason for Lauren’s fading was that poppers could interfere with the amount of oxygen your body could get. receive.

Drinking poppers can be extremely dangerous
Drinking poppers can be extremely dangerous

He said: “Essentially the tissues are starved of oxygen and that can lead to tissue death. It’s very rare, but when people have blue lips or blue fingers, that’s a sign to stop using it. The effects are reversible but can be made worse if there are underlying problems. Another serious hazard is that the material is flammable, so smoking around open containers can cause chemical burns and a nasty crust around the nose and mouth, especially after an intense session.”

Between 2001 and 2020, the North West region recorded the highest number of deaths with 100 people die from inhalant use – the same category to which poppers belong, along with combustible gases, aerosol propellants and laughing gas.

Professor Sumnall added: ‘Overall my assessment would be that it can cause death and it can cause serious harm, but it’s unlikely. People should keep an eye out for relatively mild but disturbing effects, people may faint or collapse and may injure themselves in this regard.

Professor Sumnall refers to when clubbers snort the drug, but if you were to drink it, the result would be completely different.

Liverpool broadcasting veteran Pete Price found out the hard way. He previously told ECHO: “I had a bad experience with this substance many years ago. Someone nudged me while I was sniffing the little bottle. .

“I was half paralyzed in one side for weeks and deaf in one ear, with the most terrible headaches. Thank God I came through this experience unscathed. You see, in my naivety, I thought that because it wasn’t illegal it had to be safe.”

A bottle was donated to the Museum of Liverpool as part of an exhibition. At the time, the anonymous donor explained the story behind their meaning. They said: ‘This bottle was given to me by my teenage sweetheart, as an ironic gift when we met again, after 28 years. We had been secret lovers as teenagers but remained firmly in the closet, as many young men did in Warrington in the 1980s.

“We separated in 1984, when I was almost 17 and he was approaching 18. Unable to come to terms with being gay, we both turned to radical religion and went our separate ways. We reconnected via Facebook in 2012, one becoming agnostic liberal, the other atheist. We shared our very first night of guilt-free passion, with this bottle of poppers.

“To me, even the empty bottle symbolized something so happy and fun that I couldn’t bear to throw it away. It’s nice to think of it in the museum’s collection for years to come. It’s a relic of a part of gay life that a Conservative government sought to ban in 2016, but more importantly, it’s a symbol of two young men; too afraid of society to be themselves when they were young, but eventually found themselves in their 30s and 40s.

Joseph K. Bennett