A new study on the popular party drugs known as "poppers" suggests that these drugs could do serious damage to the retina. Everyone who uses poppers should understand the potential consequences associated with these drugs, especially in regards to eye health.
For those who don't know, poppers are extremely pungent colourless liquids that have a high degree of alkyl nitrites. These drugs quickly lower a person's blood pressure and raise the heart rate, which gives each user the sensation of deeper muscle relaxation and increased libido. Poppers are almost always inhaled through the nose.
The new study on poppers' effect on the human eye was conducted in the U.K. and was recently published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. Researchers looked into a case series of 12 patients who both used poppers and had serious eye issues. All of the patients in this study were male and were treated at Sussex Eye Hospital between 2013 and 2016.
Scientists involved in the study asked each patient what kind of popper they used, how much of the drug they inhaled, and what visual symptoms they experienced shortly after inhaling the drug. Most of the patients said they experienced symptoms such as blind spots and hazy vision just a few hours after they sniffed the substance.
As researchers took a closer look at the chemical makeup of the poppers each patient claimed to use, they noticed that every single brand they used had the isopropyl nitrate in it. Ever since the chemical isobutyl nitrate was classified as "cancer-causing" in 2006, poppers have been designed with the chemical isopropyl nitrate instead. This team's new research suggests that the replacement of isopropyl nitrate could be the main reason so many poppers users complain of eye issues.
Doctors believe this chemical could damage the fovea, which is a tiny group of cones in the retina that supports healthy central vision. While the authors of this study say there's no conclusive evidence that the isobutyl nitrate in poppers is the main cause of retinal damage, it's certainly a possibility.
Although poppers are officially illegal in many countries, users can easily purchase them as either "room odorizers" or various cleaning goods at local stores. Despite the fact that the U.K. has an official ban on poppers, about 1.1 percent of the population admitted to using the drugs at least once.
Poppers are extremely popular party drugs within the gay community. A recent survey in Australia found that 60 percent of gay men had used one or more poppers in the past. Many partiers consider poppers to be a "healthier" alternative to more serious party drugs like MDMA and methamphetamines.
If used improperly, poppers can be fatal. Anyone interested in using the drug should never drink it or take it with other drugs that lower blood pressure (e.g. alcohol or Viagra). Also, poppers can cause serious burns if they are applied directly onto the skin.
Lead researchers on this U.K. project include Rebecca Rewbury, Edward Hughes, and Robert Purbrick, all of whom work at the Sussex Eye Hospital. The full study is entitled, "Poppers: legal highs with questionable contents? A case series of poppers maculopathy"