Medical Consequences of the Inhalation of Volatile Nitrites

  • Kenneth H. Mayer


Amyl and butyl nitrite have had legitimate medical indications for their use for over a century, but in the last two decades they have become an increasingly popular means for getting high, and have currently come to be frequently scrutinized as the cause of or a cofactor in a plethora of somatic disorders. The compounds are liquids at room temperature that rapidly evaporate and decompose unless kept cool, sealed, and protected from excess light exposure. Their volatile properties allow for sniffing to be the route of intoxication. They are touted as a means to alter consciousness and heighten sexual arousal and as adjuvants in achieving a euphoric state. The use of these substances has increased markedly over the past two decades, becoming a $20-million-a-year industry with an estimated cadre of over 5 million regular users.1 A nationwide survey in 1978 of graduating high school students revealed that one in nine had contact with this class of drugs.2


Methylene Blue Sexual Arousal Amyl Nitrite Volatile Property Butyl Nitrite 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth H. Mayer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of MedicineHarvard Medical SchoolUSA
  2. 2.Department of Microbiology and Molecular GeneticsHarvard Medical SchoolUSA
  3. 3.Fenway Community Health CenterBostonUSA

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