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amyl nitrite

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noun Pharmacology.

a yellowish, fragrant, flammable liquid, C5H11NO2, used in medicine chiefly as a vasodilator, especially in the treatment of angina pectoris: misused by inhalation as a stimulant, especially of sexual sensation.

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Also called isoamyl nitrite.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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Amyl nitrite vs. amyl nitrate: What’s the difference?

Amyl nitrate is a chemical compound used as a diesel additive. It is often confused with amyl nitrite, a substance used to treat certain heart conditions and abused as a recreational drug commonly known as poppers.

Amyl nitrate—chemical formula C5H11NO3—is a slightly but significantly different chemical from amyl nitrite, C5H11NO2. Nitrates have three oxygen molecules while nitrites have two.

How do you pronounce amyl nitrate?

[ am-il nahy-treyt ]

How do you pronounce amyl nitrite?

[ am-il nahy-trahyt ]​

Where did the terms amyl nitrate and amyl nitrite come from?

Documented in scientific literature in the 1850s, amyl nitrate is a water-like compound that speeds up organic chemical reactions, often added to diesel fuel to accelerate ignitionAmyl nitrite, meanwhile, was synthesized in 1844 by French chemist Antoine Balard, best known for his co-discovery of bromine. English physicians applied the chemical to the treatment of heart conditions and angina.

Because it relaxes blood vessels and increases oxygen supply to the brain, amyl nitrite results in head rushes, increased sensuality, and other elements of intoxication. It was notably abused as a recreational drug—huffed and known by the slang name of poppers—in the 1970s. Poppers were particularly popular among the young gay male population and briefly suspected of causing AIDS.

The fuel additive amyl nitrate is not consumed recreationally and can result in serious harm if inhaled. An amyl nitrite overdose, as it happens, mirrors the symptoms of ingesting amyl nitrate: sickness, bruising, and even heart failure.

How to use amyl nitrate and amyl nitrite

Amyl nitrate is mainly used in technical contexts by scientists and mechanics, who are familiar with the substance as a fuel additive.

Amyl nitrite is generally used by a physician or pharmacist handling it as a medicine. Recreational users of the drug call the substance by a number of slang names, including thrust, rock hard, kix, TNT, liquid gold, and poppers.

As amyl nitrate and amyl nitrite are very close in spelling, they are easily and often confused. Be mindful of their differences when using the terms.

More examples of amyl nitrate and amyl nitrite:

“Poppers are a yellowish or clear liquid with a very low vapour point…Amyl nitrite should not be confused with amyl nitrate. Amyl nitrate is used as an additive in diesel fuel to accelerate the ignition of the fuel.”
—Julaine Allan, The Conversation, September 2016

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

British Dictionary definitions for amyl nitrite

amyl nitrite

noun

a yellowish unstable volatile fragrant liquid used in medicine as a vasodilator and in perfumes. Formula: (CH 3) 2 CHCH 2 CH 2 NO 2
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for amyl nitrite

amyl nitrite

n.

A volatile yellow liquid formerly used in medicine as a vasodilator, but now replaced by other nitrates, such as nitroglycerin. It is used illicitly to induce euphoria and enhance sexual stimulation.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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