Gay men are being warned to be cautious of new products being sold or used as poppers that may cause serious harm.
The original version of poppers consists of alkyl nitrites and remains popular among some gay and bisexual men, often being sniffed during sex due to their relaxing effect on the muscles of the anus.
Their use has generally been seen as relatively benign, except when combined together with some medication, other recreational drugs or erectile dysfunction products such as Viagra, or when used by people with heart conditions.
According to researchers from the University of California, however, there is a “possibly growing and worrisome trend” among some American gay and bisexual men in sniffing of “huffing” organic solvents or propellants, usually with a rag, a sock or a bag as a replacement for poppers.
They warn that these solvents and propellants carry “substantially greater risk both for death and for long-term neurocognitive damage than does the use of nitrite poppers.”
The authors expressed concern that these products now appear to be marketed towards or used by men who have sex with men (MSM), who may not recognise the difference between huffing solvents or propellants and the use of alkyl nitrite poppers.
“There is concern that many MSM who are using ethyl chloride and other solvents or propellants under the guise of ‘poppers’ are likely unaware of the health risks involved in huffing,” said the researchers.
“There is… potential here for gay and bisexual men and other MSM to be introduced through sexual partners to the practice of huffing solvents without quite realising what they are doing.”
The article’s authors urged doctors, especially those working with MSM to “become well-versed on the difference between nitrite poppers and propellants or solvents commonly used in huffing, so they can recognise symptoms of use, and inform their patients of the differing health risks.”
The research was published by the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health.