What Are Smelling Salts and How They Affect Gym Performance

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You might’ve seen lifters using the devil’s fart and got curious, or you have gone through the whole smelling salts gym episode yourself. Either way, this article will help you understand everything about smelling salts.

We’ll look at what they are, how they work from a chemical and physiological perspective, what are their benefits, and most importantly – are smelling salts safe?

Let’s dive in!

What are smelling salts?

Smelling salts are a chemical compound, typically containing ammonia carbonate, used to stimulate the senses and increase alertness. 

When crushed or broken, these salts release ammonia gas, which has a strong, pungent odor. The inhalation of this odor can help individuals regain consciousness or temporarily boost mental alertness and physical performance.

They usually come in the form of crystals or capsules. To release the gas from a capsule, you have to break the capsule within  the capsule, to start the chemical reaction. 

The crystals are usually found within a small container. If they are already activated, you just have to shake the bottle. If not, you might have to add some water to the mix. I suggest you read the label on the product for more information.

Smelling salts have historically been used in medical settings as a quick remedy for fainting or dizziness. That’s because inhaling ammonia gas can force an inhalation reflex and help a person regain consciousness.

How do smelling salts work?

In its solid form, their chemical name is ammonium carbonate.

Once a reaction is triggered, the crystals break down to ammonia gas, carbon dioxide, and water vapor.

You have to get the smelling salt into a gas form. Otherwise you can’t use it. Smelling salts are only meant to be inhaled. Don’t try to ingest it in any other way (e.g. eating the crystals).

Effects of smelling salts

Smelling salts work by stimulating your respiratory system. When you sniff smelling salts, the strong scent/odor will cause your body to think that it’s in a dangerous situation. This will cause an inhalation reflex, in your body’s attempt to receive more oxygen.

Therefore, inhaling smelling salts is potentially beneficial in a sporting context. 

Here are some of the benefits that smelling salts offer::

  • They can make you feel more alert and agitated – something that can be useful when attempting a big lift.
  • Improved respiratory flow rates – the reflex increases your oxygen intake by stimulating your respiratory system.
  • Increase in perceived energy levels – the agitation causes your body to release adrenaline, which can directly improve your athletic performance by improving your gross motor skills.

Are smelling salts bad for you?

Most smelling salts, when used sparingly and as instructed, are not inherently bad for you. 

They serve the purpose of briefly stimulating the senses and increasing alertness. However, problems may arise with frequent or excessive use of smelling salts. 

Prolonged and concentrated exposure to ammonia fumes can irritate the respiratory system, potentially causing discomfort and coughing. 

One should also be mindful of strong airflow when using smelling salts, as it can irritate the eyes. 

Final thoughts

Before you go and start inhaling this sports medicine, let me remind you that different companies have different products with varying strength. 

Read the label before putting the bottle/capsule completely against your nose. Some of the best smelling salts require you to hold them out in front of you with a fully extended arm and eyes closed.

That’s how strong some of this stuff is.

Try to not use them more than twice in a single workout. Otherwise, you might irritate the mucous membrane in your nostrils, which can lead to an unpleasant itch and burning feeling in your nose.


Are smelling salts a drug?

No, smelling salts are not a drug. They are a chemical compound, typically containing ammonium carbonate, used to stimulate the senses and provide a brief boost in alertness and focus. 

What do smelling salts smell like?

I guess the best comparison is menthol, the chemical found in peppermint that makes your mouth feel fresh. Smelling salts are kinda like that, only stronger and in your nose.

Are smelling salts legal?

Yes, smelling salts are generally legal and readily available for purchase. They are widely used in various settings, including medical emergencies and some sports or fitness activities, where they are used to revive individuals who have fainted or to enhance alertness during workouts.

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