The popper effect: on the drug lasting what lasts a TikTok video

The popper has the ingredients that have cooked up its democratisation: cheap (for about 8 euros you get a 10ml bottle) and accessible (you can buy it online) | The Level.

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The popper effect: on the drug lasting what lasts a TikTok video

Written by Laura Casamitjana

Narcotics are also susceptible to becoming a trend. This is the case of popper, the narcotic vapour whose traditional use in the sexual sphere now finds its place in the atmosphere of any party.

“You got my heartbeat racing, my body blazing… I feel the rush, addicted to your touch”. Excitement, euphoria, lividity, sweat. Inhibition. Pop artist Troye Sivan portrays the whole maelstrom of sensations in his song “Rush”. The homoerotic character of the song dialogues with the popper subtext.

Crossed by an imposing red lightning bolt, like David Bowie’s face, and wrapped in a striking and intense yellow colour, more intense than the yellowish liquid contained in the bottle itself. 9ml for the small, 30ml for the XL, classic version, super version, gold version. Rush is the flagship brand of the popper, the trendy drug whose effect lasts as long as a Tik Tok. Open the bottle, cover it with your finger when you’re not inhaling, you’ll lose the vapour. Cover one nostril and bring the popper close to the other, but don’t overdo it, otherwise it will burn your skin. Inhale and plug again. The amyl nitrite vapour enters the body, reddens the face and produces a flare in the body like that of a match when it is lit, and then immediately extinguishes. For a few seconds, you emerge in an ecstasy, which then evaporates into nothingness.

The perfect cocktail for the culture of immediacy

Amyl nitrite, the formal name for popper, began to be marketed in pharmacies as a vasodilator treatment for angina pectoris. The narcotic effects of inhaling the liquid’s vapour soon led to other uses, and in London, uncontrolled sales led to alarm bells being sounded by the Pharmaceutical Society in the mid-1970s. At the same time, in the United States, nightlife smelled of paint thinner: Rush was gaining momentum with its marketing strategy. Advertising was targeted at gay and leather culture magazines of the time, such as Drummer magazine. It was an open secret that Popper’s buyers were gay men, but it had never been appealed to.

Under the pretext of being an “indoor air freshener” and other gimmicks in the face of angry health regulators, the popper began its passage into the annals of history.

“It increases sexual arousal and relaxes the sphincters. This is the main reason why it has been used in the gay scene since the 1970s, when it was at its peak in New York nightclubs, and later spread to raves and parties,” explains a report by the National Plan on Drugs.

Stigma towards anal sex (and consequently, towards the gay community) increased in the 1990s with the advent of HIV. Ignorance played its part, associating men who have sex with men (MSM), poppers and disease under the same criminalising spotlight: “early in the AIDS epidemic there were some studies that linked poppers to the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma (one of the most prevalent AIDS-defining cancers). However, many subsequent studies have shown that these associations are not based on sufficient evidence and have therefore been dismissed,” explains a study by the HIV Treatment Working Group.

The popper has always had a great symbolic charge around it, but nothing in sex is anyone’s patrimony: neither behaviours, nor practices, nor drug use. Regarding poppers, the report of the National Plan on Drugs points out that “it is currently also used by heterosexuals, mainly for its effects in the sexual sphere”.

Circuit de Montmeló (Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya). 10 September 2023. The first edition of a sold-out macro-festival is held in the open air – in the same place where Verstappen won the F1 Grand Prix a few months ago.

– Smells like feet, shall we move?

– What?

– Well, like rotten paint, I don’t know, maybe we’ve stepped in shit, look at my shoes, because I’ve been smelling it all night.

– I think it’s not what you think

[The group of kids in a circle at the side breaks up].

– Hey, do you want some?

“When you make pop, there’s no stop, there’s a weight, what a fucking horror”, sings Ben Yart in his song “Popper”. The song’s refrain, nothing could be further from the truth: “They offer us Popper, they offer us Popper”. Popper adherence is like HerbaLife, whoever has, offers to whomever – euphoria makes solidarity flourish. As if Mr. Rush gives commission for generating new members to feed a pyramid scheme. The popper has the ingredients that have cooked up its democratisation: cheap (for about 8 euros you get a 10ml bottle) and accessible (you can buy it online). It also has the ingredients to have become a trend: it is the quick, instant high, with no waiting time and no prolongation, the perfect cocktail for the culture of immediacy.

A global vapour hovering over the skies as night falls

Poppers as a trend has been redefined, and the gay men who used to go to those London pharmacies in the mid-1970s are now any profile of person adding nitrite to Mr Bezos’s online shopping basket. The uses associated with chemsex have been diluted: much of the users are young people who simply want a quick fix on a night out. “You feel like your blood rushes to your brain and your temperature rises, you suddenly have a sort of euphoric high,” says A, a young popper user in a nightlife context. “At the moment it helps you to carry on with the party, but the effect is very short-lived,” he adds.

As for short-term effects, such as the next day, she does not point to any specific pattern beyond the alcohol hangover itself: “I’ve never noticed anything, although I guess it also depends on how many times you take it during the night”, she explains, adding that she knows someone who usually gets a headache. Along the same lines, another young popper user says that once she inhaled too many times, the next day she felt as if she constantly felt like she had to defecate. “People take it several times during the night because of the pleasure it gives you,” says A.

The accessibility, immediacy, and lack of ‘consequences‘ – unlike, for example, the characteristic ‘comedown’ associated with crystal meth or cocaine – make it easier to perceive as ‘soft’, and in turn encourages normalisation.

However, like all supposedly harmless drugs, regular use of amyl nitrite has long-term consequences such as neurological damage, respiratory depression, methemoglobinemia (a deoxygenation of the blood) and anaemia (destruction of red blood cells), as the Galician Health Service points out.

The return of the popper in the form of fashion – it never quite left – disembowels it from its first function, a vapour that circulated in the endogamy of the connections of the queer circuit, to become the protagonist of any dancefloor, in the hands of anyone. Its dispersion turns it into a global vapour that hovers over the skies with the coming of night. For Adam Zmith, author of “Deep Inhalation: popper history and queer futures”, it is more a question of the future than the past – or the present. Perhaps it lies in the feeling that, during the pop, anything is possible: “we inhale from our little bottles because we want to free ourselves from our bodies […] the future is who we become in the next forty-five seconds”.

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The popper effect: on the drug lasting what lasts a TikTok video

Written by Laura Casamitjana

Narcotics are also susceptible to becoming a trend. This is the case of popper, the narcotic vapour whose traditional use in the sexual sphere now finds its place in the atmosphere of any party.

“You got my heartbeat racing, my body blazing… I feel the rush, addicted to your touch”. Excitement, euphoria, libido, sweat. Inhibition. Pop artist Troye Sivan portrays the whole maelstrom of sensations in his song “Rush”. The homoerotic character of the song dialogues with the popper subtext.

Crossed by an imposing red lightning bolt, like David Bowie’s face, and wrapped in a striking and intense yellow colour, more intense than the yellowish liquid contained in the bottle itself. 9ml for the small, 30ml for the XL, classic version, super version, gold version. Rush is the flagship brand of the popper, the trendy drug whose effect lasts as long as a Tik Tok. Open the bottle, cover it with your finger when you’re not inhaling, you’ll lose the vapour. Cover one nostril and bring the popper close to the other, but don’t overdo it, otherwise it will burn your skin. Inhale and plug again. The amyl nitrite vapour enters the body, reddens the face and produces a flare in the body like that of a match when it is lit, and then immediately extinguishes. For a few seconds, you emerge in an ecstasy, which then evaporates into nothingness.

The perfect cocktail for the culture of immediacy

Popper, also known as amyl nitrite, was initially sold in pharmacies as a treatment for angina pectoris because of its ability to dilate blood vessels. However, its narcotic effects when the vapour was inhaled soon led to other uses, raising concerns about its uncontrolled sale in London in the 1970s, which alarmed the Pharmaceutical Society.

In the United States, meanwhile, the nightlife scene was permeated by the smell of paint thinner as the product boomed, driven by marketing strategies such as Rush, which targeted its advertising to gay and leather culture magazines such as Drummer.

Although disguised as an ‘indoor air freshener’ to evade health regulation, poppers found their place in history thanks to their effects on sexual arousal and muscle relaxation, especially among the gay community in the 1970s and at later events such as raves and parties.

The stigma associated with anal sex, exacerbated by the HIV epidemic in the 1990s, contributed to the mixed and criminalising perception of poppers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and the disease, although subsequent studies have disproved associations with the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the most common manifestations of AIDS.

Despite its symbolic charge and its historical link to the gay community, poppers have transcended gender and sexual orientation barriers and are also used by heterosexuals, mainly because of their effects on the sexual sphere.

Today, the popper has become a trend, thanks to its low cost, online availability and fast action, making it the perfect choice for a culture obsessed with immediacy and instant pleasure.

A vapour that wafts through the night air

The popper has evolved since its inception as a product exclusively associated with gay men in London pharmacies in the 1970s. Now, anyone can easily add it to their online shopping cart. Uses previously linked to chemsex, involving sexual encounters accompanied by drugs, have lost their strength. Many users are young people simply looking for a quick boost during a night out.

“A” is one of those young people who inhale poppers in nightlife contexts. He describes the sensation as a sudden surge of euphoria and energy, but also admits that the effect is short-lived.

On short-term effects, such as a hangover the next day, there is no clear pattern. Some do not experience anything, while others may experience headaches or other discomforts, depending on the amount and frequency of use. In addition, regular use can lead to more serious health problems, such as neurological or respiratory problems, according to the Galician Health Service.

Accessibility and the lack of obvious short-term consequences mean that poppers are perceived as a “soft” drug, which contributes to their normalisation. However, like any substance, prolonged use can have serious health implications.

The popper is no longer just a trend in the queer scene, it is now a protagonist on any dance floor, in the hands of anyone. Its popularity has turned it into a global phenomenon that spreads all over the world during the night. For Adam Zmith, author of “Deep Inhalation: A History of the Popper and Queer Futures”, the popularity of the popper lies in the feeling of freedom it offers during consumption, as if in those seconds anything is possible.

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