FRIDAY, Jan. 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- New types of inhaled recreational drugs called "poppers" can contain harmful solvents and propellants that are extremely dangerous, researchers warn.
Traditional poppers became popular decades ago among gay men because they enhance sex by giving a mild high and relaxing smooth muscle. These poppers are based on alkyl nitrites and are related to the medication amyl nitrite.
However, some new products being sold as poppers are actually more dangerous "huffing" solvents that pose serious health risks. Those risks include a potentially deadly heart rhythm disorder called "sudden sniffing death," experts report in an article published recently in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health.
Other potential risks from the new poppers include short-term delirium, memory and thinking problems, and nerve damage, the study authors said in a journal news release.
Despite the increasing use of, and risks posed by, these huffing solvents being marketed as poppers, they have received little attention in the gay or mainstream media or in addiction textbooks, according to a research team led by Dr. Timothy Hall of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Gay men can easily be introduced to these products by sexual partners without being aware of the dangers, Hall and his colleagues said.
Physicians also need to understand the dangers and alert their patients, the study authors added.
Doctors "are taught almost nothing about regular nitrite poppers. 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," Hall said in the news release.
"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."
For more about inhalants, including poppers, go to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.