What are Smelling Salts? Benefits, Risks, and Side Effects

Ever heard of smelling salts? People have used them for a long time to wake up fast. This article will tell you what they are, why some folks love them, and why others say to be careful.

What are Smelling salts?

Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, have been around for centuries and were traditionally used to revive someone who had fainted. They are compact capsules or vials containing ammonium carbonate, which, when broken or shaken, release ammonia gas. The pungent aroma of this gas can trigger an inhalation reflex, leading to increased alertness and wakefulness.

While their primary historical use was in medical settings, they have more recently gained popularity among athletes and gym enthusiasts.

How do smelling salts work?

The potent aroma of smelling salts acts directly on the nasal and respiratory membranes. When inhaled, the ammonia gas irritates the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs, leading to an immediate and involuntary deep inhalation. This swift intake of air increases oxygen levels in the brain, temporarily enhancing alertness and focus. Moreover, the release of ammonia triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, elevating levels of adrenaline, which can momentarily boost performance and perception.

What are the benefits of smelling salts?

There are several benefits attributed to the use of smelling salts:

  • Reviving Consciousness: Historically, they were used to rouse individuals from fainting spells or sudden bouts of dizziness.
  • Boosting Athletic Performance: Many athletes claim that smelling salts give them an adrenaline rush, sharpening focus and temporarily increasing strength before a critical performance or heavy lift.
  • Increasing Alertness: Beyond the athletic realm, they can serve as a rapid remedy for momentary fatigue or drowsiness.

Are smelling salts bad for you? Risks and side effects

While smelling salts have their merits, they aren’t devoid of risks:

  • Nasal Irritation: Prolonged use can irritate the nasal passages, leading to inflammation or bleeding.
  • Respiratory Issues: Over-reliance or excessive inhalation can harm lung tissues or aggravate existing respiratory conditions.
  • Overstimulation: They can cause jitters, unease, and an excessively rapid heartbeat in some individuals.
  • Dependency: Continuous use, especially among athletes, may lead to psychological dependency, falsely believing they can’t perform without them.

Are smelling salts a drug?

Smelling salts are not classified as drugs in the conventional sense. They don’t induce a state of intoxication, nor do they alter the mind or body’s functioning in a lasting manner. However, due to the rapid and intense response they elicit, they can be perceived as performance-enhancing. In some sports, there is ongoing debate about their ethical use in competitions.

Joe Rogan and Smelling salts

Joe Rogan has discussed the use of smelling salts on several occasions, particularly in the context of combat sports and weightlifting. While he doesn’t advocate for their indiscriminate use, his discussions have brought renewed attention to this age-old remedy.

On multiple episodes of his podcast, Rogan tried the AHHH!!! smelling salts by Jujimufu with several guests, including comedians Theo Von, Ari Shaffir, Mark Normand, and Shane Gillis.

Where to Buy Smelling Salts?

For those curious about their effects, smelling salts are often available for purchase over-the-counter at many local pharmacies. They’re typically sold in small breakable ampoules or bottled solutions.

However, caution is advised. While they can be an interesting experience, frequent use may lead to nasal or respiratory irritation. It’s always recommended to read the label, understand the product, and use it responsibly.

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Professional Sports and Athlete Endorsements

Smelling salts have found a resurgence in popularity in the realm of professional sports. Athletes, searching for that split-second advantage or a sudden burst of alertness, often turn to these inhalants for a quick jolt before key moments in a game or event.

High-profile athletes in sports like hockey, football, and weightlifting have been seen on camera breaking a capsule and inhaling sharply. Their endorsements, whether through use or vocal support, have increased the visibility and curiosity surrounding smelling salts in modern athletic performance.

Use in Victorian Times for Fainting Spells

In the Victorian era, the image of a woman fainting and being revived by smelling salts was almost iconic. Tight corsets, heavy layered clothing, and poorly ventilated rooms were the order of the day. These factors often led to fainting spells, especially among women.

Illustration of a fainted woman, Victorian era.

Smelling salts, with their sharp, invigorating aroma, became the perfect remedy. Ladies often carried them in dainty, ornate containers or had them readily available in their homes, ensuring that they or their peers could be quickly revived from a faint.

Smelling Salts in Medical Kits during Wars

Battlefields are scenes of chaos, injury, and shock. In wars, especially during the two World Wars, medics recognized the value of smelling salts as a means to swiftly rouse soldiers from unconsciousness or a dazed state. When every second counted, and with limited medical resources on the front lines, the immediate effects of smelling salts were invaluable.

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