Amyl Nitrite

Amyl nitrite is a volatile, oily liquid with a sweet, banana-like odor. It is sold by prescription in glass ampules for the treatment of angina pectoris, chest pain caused by the narrowing of vessels in the heart. When the glass ampules are broken, they "pop"; hence they are sometimes called "poppers." Amyl nitrite relaxes the vessels of the heart by relaxing the muscles of the veins as well as all other smooth muscles in the body. When the veins throughout the body dilate, blood pressure falls. Because a minimum blood pressure is required to maintain blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, a reflex protects the brain by increasing heart rate and blood flow. This produces a "rush" as the heart pounds, and there is a throbbing sensation in the head. Users also experience a warm flush as the blood accumulates near the skin because of the dilation of veins. Vision also may "redden" as the retinal vessels dilate. The user may faint if the heart cannot maintain blood flow to the brain. If this occurs, the user falls to the floor, and blood flows to the brain, restoring consciousness. Use in a situation where it is impossible to become horizontal may result in brain damage.

The duration of action of the drug is very brief, and as the effect wears off, the user may experience headache, nausea, vomiting, and a chill. The drop in body temperature occurs because of the loss of heat when the veins dilate and the skin flushes. Use of the drug for prolonged periods, or swallowing the liquid, may produce fatal methemoglobinemia, a "chocolate" blood condition in which the blood is brown and cannot carry oxygen to the brain. The drug produces a thick, crusty brown rash if it is spilled on the skin, and is irritat ing to the lungs. It is flammable and explosive. Volatile nitrites are converted to nitrosamines in the body, and most nitrosamines are very potent cancer-causing chemicals. There is an association of the use of volatile nitrites with Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-related skin cancer. Volatile nitrites impair the function of the immune system. The physiology of sexual intercourse involves smooth muscle; the nitrites relax those muscles as well and so will affect sexual function.

The prescription requirement for amyl nitrite was eliminated in 1960, and its use became popular; in 1964 prescription requirements were reestablished. ''Designer'' nitrites, such as butyl and isobutyl nitrites, were then bottled and sold as ''room deodorizers'' with such names as RUSH, Locker Room, and Aroma of Men, so named because it smelled like a locker room. Since these products were not controlled substances or sold as medicines, they were once legal products.

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