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What is ‘jungle juice’ and is it dangerous?

“I’ve seen and known people use JJ’s (Jungle Juice, I think it’s a type of popper which was a big gay drug, that’s all I know about it). I was just wondering what’s the deal with them. We haven’t received much drug ed on them as other drugs. I don’t know if it’s because it isn’t as dangerous or it’s just more common due to us not being as educated on them.”

‘Jungle Juice’ is one of the brand or product names for a group of drugs known as ‘nitrites’. You’re correct when you said it was a type of ‘popper’, as that was the street term used for these drugs in the past. That term is still used by some but younger users are far more likely to use the product name now – whether that be ‘Jungle Juice’, ‘Rush’ or whatever. In the past the most widely used nitrite was ‘amyl’, but most of the products available today belong to the alkyl nitrite family.

The drug comes as a liquid with users inhaling the vapour from a small bottle. It has a unique smell, with some products having a sweet, fruity odour, while others are described as smelling like sweaty socks! As you say, amyl was known as a ‘gay drug’ for a very long time, with gay men, particularly in the 70s and 80s, using it to enhance sex or to make the lights and music seem more intense when dancing in nightclubs.

In 2020 amyl nitrite was reclassified as a Schedule 3 – Pharmacist Only Medicine resulting in it now being able to be legally sold and purchased behind the counter at pharmacies. It’s not able to be sold by other businesses, however, so to avoid legal restrictions the product is often sold as such things as liquid incense, room odorizer, or even leather cleaner.

Nitrites act as a vasodilator – that means they dilate blood vessels. When someone inhales the fumes from the liquid it causes more blood to enter the brain resulting in the user experiencing an intense ‘head rush’. Some users also report a sense of well-being and euphoria, although this isn’t always the case. The effects are very short-acting however, lasting no more than 30 seconds for some people and up to 3-5 minutes for others.

So is ‘Jungle Juice’ or any other nitrite product dangerous?

Most people don’t continue to use nitrite products regularly mainly because of the unpleasant after-effect. Headaches the morning after use are often reported, particularly if the drug is used regularly through the night. If spilled onto the skin the liquid can cause burns and if inhaled over and over again it is possible for the user to get sores on and around the nose (or on the lips if inhaled through the mouth) as the fumes can be quite caustic. There have also been some recent studies that show that regular users could suffer loss of vision over time. The most important thing to note, however, is that if nitrites are swallowed it can lead to unconsciousness or even death. Although these products can seem like a bit of harmless fun, they can be very dangerous substances if people aren’t totally aware of the potential harms.

No drug is without risk and certainly one of the growing problems with the nitrite products currently available online is that due to some countries banning certain products, manufacturers ‘tweak’ the compound to avoid legal restrictions, often resulting in the manufacture of potentially more dangerous substances. When it comes down to it though – maybe the idea of sniffing something being sold as a ‘leather cleaner’ isn’t that great an idea anyway!

First published: August 2014
Updated: July 2023

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