Gay men using poppers to heighten euphoria and loosen their, um, inhibitions is nothing new. But side effects of products now marketed as poppers go beyond benign black boogers and a few dead brain cells.
A new study finds that gay men’s poppers aren’t poppers anymore. That is, they aren’t made with the nitrites that have been staples on gay dance floors and in gay beds for decades. Instead, household glues, aerosols and other chemicals formerly huffed by bored teens are now bottled up for consumption by key demographics including gay men.
With that little bombshell, poppers' benign reputation suddenly becomes critically dangerous to thousands, according to the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Health.
Huffing is an emergent health concern among MSM substance users. While men who have sex with men (MSM) in North America have commonly used alkyl nitrite “poppers,” related to the vasodilator amyl nitrite, in sexual contexts since at least the 1970s, they do not have a significant history of using solvent or propellant inhalants, known as “huffing.” This may be changing, with some solvents being marketed as a “new form of poppers.”
Huffing solvents carries considerably more health risk than using alkyl nitrite poppers, but this may not be recognized by clinicians, who usually have little knowledge of either, or MSM, who do not have a cultural history of huffing.
In short, “You in danger, girl.”
UCLA reports that there has been little to no popular media coverage of the chage or the rising risk, even among gay outlets, until now. One of its researchers lays out the issues.
Gay men can easily be introduced to these products by sexual partners without being aware of the dangers, and physicians also need to understand the dangers and alert their patients, according to a research team led by Dr. Timothy Hall of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Doctors "are taught almost nothing about regular nitrite poppers,” Hall said in a news release. “They're little more than a footnote at the back of most addiction textbooks, lumped in with sniffing glue and huffing aerosols, even though the physiologic effects are quite different.
"Gay and bisexual men, on the other hand, have little exposure to huffing but tend to think of nitrite poppers as fairly benign," he added. "There's a real risk here for [gay men] to be taking a much more harmful substance than they're expecting, and for clinicians not to recognize the difference."
How bad? Bad. The risks include a deadly heart rhythm disorder called "sudden sniffing death.” You don’t know you’re prone to it until it’s too late. Researchers suggest that we don’t accept poppers from sex partners without knowing what kind they are. Be careful out there.