The small bottles of odorous chemicals known as poppers are a familiar sight on the lips and underarms of gay men. But despite the prominence of these drugs in queer culture, many people have no idea what they really are. Inhalants containing organic solvents or propellants are commonly used as an aphrodisiac tonic, to reach a sexual climax and help with intimacy, or simply to fend off depression and anxiety. While they can work for some, they also carry serious risks and are highly addictive.
Inhalants, also called sniffing powders or ‘huffing’, are a growing problem in the US, with regular use causing psychological dependence. It can also lead to addiction to other drugs, including cocaine and opiates, and is linked to mental illness, including psychosis. But it’s not just gay men who are using the drugs – heterosexual women and transgender individuals are also becoming hooked on them.
Smelling a male pheromone prompts the same brain activity in homosexual men as it does in heterosexual women, according to new research. Tests on 36 healthy participants found that sniffing the testosterone-derived compound AND triggered responses in their brains’ sex-related areas, whereas an oestrogen-derived compound called EST did not. The results support the ‘continuum theory’ of brain differentiation between opposite-sex and heterosexual people, as opposed to the traditional inversion theory that says that a person’s innate sexual orientation is determined by their underlying anatomical structure. The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science.