Erotic inhaling

I sniff amyl nitrite every day to enhance my orgasms. Is this unhealthy?

Published August 2, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Buzzed,

I like to use amyl nitrite; I use it almost every time I have an orgasm. I find that I alternate between the actual amyl and the products available online such as pc1 and Rush. What are the health implications of taking a few sniffs of this on a daily basis? Is it carcinogenic? Am I damaging my liver? Can it cause rosacea? I'm aware that it can be fatal if used with Viagra, but there does not seem to be any other information on long-term use. I can't seem to find this information in any other place on the Web. Thanks for a great service!

Rushing my health

Dear Rushing,

There's an old expression known to every pharmacologist: "Every drug has at least two effects, the one you know about and the one you don't." In this case, we know a lot about how amyl nitrite -- sometimes called poppers -- affects the cardiovascular system, and practically nothing about how it affects the brain, especially orgasms.

Speaking of explosive moments, amyl and other nitrites used for sexual enhancement are very close cousins of nitroglycerine, the same chemical used in explosives. It is also used to reduce heart pain (angina) caused by clogged arteries. All of these chemicals work as heart medicine because they relax the smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the arteries. When these muscles relax, the arteries expand and more blood flows through the clogged area.

Nitrites open up more than arteries. Smooth muscles maintain the tone of many body parts, including the anus, the urethra and the iris of the eye. Some people use the drug to relax the anus, allowing easier penetration during anal sex.

If you are going to use a recreational drug, amyl nitrite is one of the safer ones. It's been around since the 1800s and there are only a few problems known to be associated with it. First, there's the blood pressure problem. When it dilates the arteries, blood pressure falls. So you can feel flushed as the skin gets more blood (no, you are not getting rosacea), and faint as the blood is diverted away from the brain to the rest of the body. If you are using any other drug that decreases blood pressure or dilates arteries (including Viagra), this can be a serious problem. Even alcohol can dilate blood vessels, so be careful if you use amyl with it. (By the way, only amyl nitrite and nitroglycerine are manufactured as medicine, so anything else is an industrial chemical that is not made for human consumption.)

Second, if you are feeling orally inspired, under no circumstances should you try eating your amyl nitrite. This drug is very volatile (also flammable) and is made for inhaling. When eaten, it can bind to the hemoglobin in your blood, thereby blocking its ability to carry oxygen (just like cyanide does). This requires immediate medical attention because you are being asphyxiated! We've only seen one report of this happening when the drug is inhaled.

We have a few other warnings as well: Avoid these drugs if you have glaucoma, and since there have been some hints that these drugs could alter immune function, it's best to avoid them if you are under the weather. The best approach is to tell your physician that you use them and get her advice given your particular medical conditions. We are aware of at least one problem with long-term use. You become tolerant to these drugs -- and if you stop using them, there will be withdrawal effects within your cardiovascular system. If you want to quit, don't do it abruptly, and do it with a physician's help. As for other long-term effects, there is no research data one way or the other.

What's the connection between better orgasms and amyl? We don't have a clue why some people might have better ones, but that won't keep us from speculating. When you are having sex your blood pressure and heart rate are up a lot. Because inhaling amyl nitrite causes a precipitous drop in blood flow to the brain, you can get dizzy and disoriented. Some people like to feel dizzy and disoriented, so perhaps for them this adds to the orgasmic moment to produce an even greater sense of climax. But, pharmacological theorizing aside, we haven't the foggiest.

By Cynthia Kuhn

Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., is a professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical School and heads the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program at Duke. She is coauthor of "Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs From Alcohol to Ecstasy" and of the forthcoming book "Pumped: Straight Facts for Athletes About Drugs, Supplements and Training."

MORE FROM Cynthia Kuhn

By Wilkie Wilson

Wilkie Wilson, Ph.D., is a professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical School. He studies how drugs affect the brain, particularly the processes of learning and memory. He is also coauthor of "Buzzed" and of the forthcoming book "Pumped."

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