Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number: 8017-89-8 (amyl nitrite); 542-56-3
Formal Names: Amyl Nitrite, Butyl Nitrite, Cyclohexyl Nitrite, Isoamyl Nitrite,
Isobutyl Nitrite, Nitrous Acid
Informal Names: Aimes, Aimies, Ames, Amys, Army, Aroma of Men, Blackjack, Blue Heaven, Bolt, Boppers, Buds, Bullet, Buzz Bomb, Climax, Dixcorama, Hardware, Heart-On, High Ball, Liquid Gold, Liquid Incense, Locker Room, Man Aroma, Oz, Ozone, Pearls, Poppers, Quicksilver, Ram, Rush, Snappers, Thrust, Whiteout
Federal Schedule Listing: Unlisted, but may be in state schedules
USA Availability: Prescription for some formats; nonprescription for others
Pregnancy Category: X (amyl nitrite, also called isoamyl nitrite)
Various chemical subvarieties of nitrite inhalants exist. Isobutyl nitrite is popular in some teenager circles and has been called “the cocaine of poor people.” Although anyone is physically free to use any drug, authorities find that nitrite sniffing has particular appeal to male homosexuals, especially during sexual activity. Aphrodisiac qualities are claimed for the substance. Amyl nitrite sniffers report euphoria and muscle relaxation. Isobutyl nitrite users
report losing their sense of who they are and also becoming calm or, in contrast, becoming prone to wild conduct—differences that may illustrate the impact that someone’s personality and surroundings have on drug experiences.
Regardless of exact content of a nitrite experience, sensations are brief. Some persons have confused nitrites with nitrates; they have a similar spelling but are different substances.
Nitrite inhalants have brief action but may incapacitate a person during that time and thus should not be used while engaged in dangerous activity such as driving a car. Unwanted actions of nitrites include feelings of falling and spinning, headache, facial flushing, rapid heartbeat, generalized throbbing feelings, and low blood pressure (low enough to make a person
faint). Less common are nausea, vomiting, agitation, sweating, loss of energy and strength, and loss of bladder and rectal control. In mice experiments involving single and multiple exposures, inhaling isobutyl nitrite can cause anemia, harm the immune system, create nose and lung abnormalities, and disturb the spleen. Similar results are seen with rats. Blood and spleen abnormalities developed in a mice experiment using cyclohexyl nitrite. In a human patient, sniffing isobutyl nitrite caused bronchitis severe enough to affect the trachea. Amyl nitrite (which has a long medical history as a heart medicine) and isobutyl nitrite may each cause methemoglobinemia, a sometimes fatal blood disease interfering with the body’s use of oxygen; this affliction is particularly likely if a person drinks isobutyl nitrite instead of inhaling the
vapor. Isobutyl nitrite interference with the body’s ability to use oxygen may be perilous for persons with inadequate oxygen supply to the heart.
In the early days of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) research, scientists noticed that many victims were nitrite sniffers. Because of this association, at one time nitrite sniffing was suspected to be the cause of AIDS, an excellent example of why association of a chemical with a disease cannot be assumed to demonstrate a cause-effect relationship. The substance is still, however, suspected of worsening the progression of AIDS once the disease strikes. In addition, damage to the immune system caused by nitrite inhalation is suspected of making a user more susceptible to AIDS and to a type of cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Tolerance to amyl nitrite can develop.
Although amyl nitrite is used as an antidote for cyanide poisoning, isobutyl nitrite can interact with coffee in a way that produces enough cyanide to poison someone who drinks the combination beverage. Using amyl nitrite with alcohol can cause heart failure. Nitrites are flammable, making them hazardous around flames or lit cigarettes. Persons with glaucoma
are supposed to avoid amyl nitrite. People report burns caused by isobutyl nitrite splashing on skin.
Laboratory tests and animal experiments (the latter involving longterm exposure) indicate that isobutyl nitrite liquid and vapor each cause cancer.
In the body nitrite breaks down into chemicals that may promote birth defects. The lower blood pressure produced by amyl nitrite is believed harmful to a fetus. Whether amyl nitrite passes into the milk of nursing mothers is unknown.
Additional scientific information may be found in:
Bradberry, S.M., et al. “Fatal Methemoglobinemia Due to Inhalation of Isobutyl Nitrite.”
Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology 32 (1994): 179–84.
Covalla, J.R., C.V. Strimlan, and J.G. Lech. “Severe Tracheobronchitis from Inhalation
of an Isobutyl Nitrite Preparation.” Drug Intelligence and Clinical Pharmacy 15
Haverkos, H.W., and J. Dougherty. “Health Hazards of Nitrite Inhalants.” American
Journal of Medicine 84 (1988): 479–82.
Haverkos, H.W., et al. “Nitrite Inhalants: History, Epidemiology, and Possible Links
to AIDS.” Environmental Health Perspectives 102 (1994): 858–61.
Israelstam, S., S. Lambert, and G. Oki. “Use of Isobutyl Nitrite as a Recreational Drug.”
British Journal of Addiction to Alcohol and Other Drugs 73 (1978): 319–20.
Lange, W.R., and J. Fralich. “Nitrite Inhalants: Promising and Discouraging News.”
British Journal of Addiction 84 (1989): 121–23.
Soderberg, L.S. “Immunomodulation by Nitrite Inhalants May Predispose Abusers to
AIDS and Kaposi’s Sarcoma.” Journal of Neuroimmunology 83 (1998): 157–61.