(NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning Americans to make sure the tiny bottles they’re drinking aren’t accidentally something else — poppers, in particular. But you may be wondering just what that means.
“Poppers” is a term used to refer to a variety of liquid chemicals, typically amyl nitrate, which are sometimes inhaled by people recreationally for enhanced sexual arousal and temporary relaxation. While these items can be sold (and are widely available in places like adult novelty stores), their use is not approved in any way by the FDA and using them as a drug is illegal.
While poppers can’t legally be sold under the name “poppers,” the small bottles can be sold for other uses, like cleaners, nail polish removers or air fresheners. Some popular brands include Rush, Super Rush and Sub-Zero — many such brands come in bottles similar in size to those of energy drinks like 5-Hour Energy.
And the FDA says it’s still seeing deaths and hospitalizations after people accidentally ingested poppers instead of energy drinks, despite a warning it published in 2021.
“A single mistake can prove fatal,” the FDA wrote on its social media channels on Wednesday. “Drinking or inhaling poppers seriously jeopardizes your health.”
What do poppers do?
Though they are not approved for usage, poppers remain popular in some communities, including LGBTQ and party spaces. As Cleveland Clinic explains, poppers belong to a series of chemicals known as vasodilators.
When inhaled as vapors, these nitrates “allow blood vessels to widen and blood flow to increase,” in addition to relaxing smooth muscle tissues.
But the FDA warns against any use of poppers — because even using them in the way some people intend to can be dangerous or deadly.
“These chemicals can be caustic and damage the skin or other tissues they come in contact with, cause difficulty breathing, extreme drops in blood pressure, decreases in blood oxygen levels, seizures, heart arrhythmia, coma, and death,” said Judy McMeekin, Pharm. D., FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. “Do not ingest or inhale under any circumstances.”
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Hazards of popper use include irregular heartbeats and conditions, dangerously low blood pressure, medication interactions, and loss of vision.
If you think you’re having serious side effects related to poppers, you should call 911 or visit an emergency room.