What are they? Smelling salts are more often than not in form of ammonium carbonate. By combining carbon dioxide and ammonium hydroxide, the liquid solution of ammonia, one can produce this main ingredient of most smelling salts. Throughout history,smelling salts have had a multitude of different purposes, most of them involving waking up people who have fainted. Dentists used them to wake up their patientsafter their procedures, before anesthesia became commonplace. Boxing coaches have used them to wake up their beat-up boxers, before smelling salts received a ban in most federations. Football and hockey players still use them as stimulants to perform better and feel more awake. However, the ones who stereotypically use and abuse the smelling salts are powerlifters and strongmen.
How do smelling salts work?
Seeing someone break an ampule of ammonia-based smelling salt and sniff it before lifting some heavy weight is becoming a much more common sight. Why do the smelling salts help? The salts release the ammonia in its’ normal state of matter: gas. The ammonia is a corrosive gas, meaning that it irritates the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs, which is why you may notice that your nose feels completely dry the first few times you use smelling salts. This irritation triggers a reflex that causes the breathing muscles to work faster. The effect generally lasts up to a minute upon inhaling the smelling salts, depending on how concentrated the ammonia is.
Are smelling salts harmful?
Simply put, it depends. It depends on the factor of amount. It is also important to note that the long-term effects of constant or regular ammonia inhaling are unknown. However, regarding the short term: if your nose dryness goes away within an hour or so, you can consider yourself completely safe. If you do not use smelling salts more often than a couple of times per week, you can consider yourself safe. A factor that is important in seeing if the amount is too high is the concentration of your smelling salts. Most of the ammonia marketed and sold as smelling salts has a concentration too low to be harmful if used properly, by the instructions. If you are unable to find smelling salts in your area, you may have to resort to purchasing an ammonia solution, which is ammonia diluted in water. Given that the concentrations of these substances varies a lot, you must be careful when choosing which bottle to purchase. Do not go over 30%, as those higher concentrated solution may do more harm than good. Even 15% should be more than enough to provide you with a sensation you have never felt before.
Should I use them?
If you do not have preexisting health conditions, using smelling salts should be safe. Contact your doctor before trying them. For a completely healthy individual, smelling salts are only usable with heavy weight and low repetitions. Performing sets of 20 repetitions is also possible, but defeats the primary purpose of the smelling salts, which is to stimulate the central nervous system just enough to allow you to lift a few more kilograms because of it. If you are healthy and lifting heavy, you may use smelling salts. Do not use them too often, as this is detrimental in terms of both health and tolerance. Given that this is a stimulant, one may develop a tolerance as one does with caffeine, which would result in higher dosages being required for the same effect as earlier.