Smelling Salts 101: How to Use, History, & Health Concerns

Smelling Salts 101: How to Use, History, & Health Concerns

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Smelling salts have blown up in popularity due to their presence on TikTok and the strong involuntarily reaction most people have when trying them for the first time.

But – is this trend of smelling salts healthy? What are they useful for and are they worth the money? Let’s find out:

What Are Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts are a type of salt usually used to involuntarily ‘wake’ someone up that’s losing consciousness. It’s typically used to increase alertness or revive someone who’s fainted as the smell of the smelling salts causes your body to increase oxygen flow – which can bring a jolt of alertness in specific instances

Scientifically speaking – smelling salts are usually composed of ammonium carbonate – ((NH4)2CO3).

History of Smelling Salts

Smelling salts have been used all the way back in Roman times to the 13th and 14th century.

Then, they used ammonia derived from deer horns and hooves as a practical use case.

In Victorian times, they were used to revive fainting women. This was referenced several times in Charles Dickens’ literary works.

In the 2nd World War – smelling salts were also advised to be included in all first aid boxes.

Currently – smelling salts are not used as often in medical settings, but are very popular in gym settings, full contact sports, and settings where short bursts of adrenaline can be extremely beneficial.

What Do Smelling Salts Do?

Put shortly – smelling salts force you to inhale – which causes a shot of oxygen to the brain – which triggers alertness.

In a more detailed explanation, smelling salts release ammonia gas. This irritates the membranes of your nose and lungs. It also triggers an involuntary inhalation effect.

This forces your body to take in oxygen, triggering more alertness as your body improves your respiratory flow.

The salts effects are immediate, but short-lasting. They are best suited to short-term activities where you need a sudden burst of alertness, rather than activities where you need long, sustained focused.

Who Uses Smelling Salts?

As mentioned above, smelling salts have been used for centuries to revive fainting people.

However modern uses are often far less for medical uses and more often for physical fitness related activities.

Sports you’ll often see uses of smelling salts include:

  • Hockey
  • Powerlifting
  • Bodybuilding
  • Strong man competitions
  • Other sports where you need a jolt of attention and adrenaline

While it’s not widely discussed, many professional football players use smelling salts during their games.

Some sports like Boxing have banned smelling salts for use in competition, but they remain widely used recreationally and in non-competitive situations.

What Do Smelling Salts Smell Like?

Because smelling salts are essentially ammonia salts. This is a strong, very unpleasant smell that maybe smells similar to a super strength version of the bleach smell you smell when you smell something.

Where To Buy Smiling Salts?

One of the best places to get smelling salts is on

At $15 for a bottle, it’s a solid price and they are guaranteed to wake you up.


Other popular brands of smelling salts include:

  • WestSide Barbell
  • JujiMufu

Concerns About Smelling Salts

Because smelling salts can cause a jolt of energy, athletes using smelling salts after a big injury (common in football), may be able to push through and play through concussion symptoms that they would otherwise not be able to play through. This can expose them to another successive injury and cause further issues. Without smelling salts, they’d likely just sit on the sideline – and would prevent exposure to the dangerous second incident.

The other concern is that ammonia in large or extended doses can be dangerous or toxic to humans. While most smelling salts are not so concentrated to cause issues – if they do get in contact with your skin – you’ll need to make sure to clean and wash the area thoroughly.

Are Smelling Salts a Drug?

Smelling salts are not considered a drug. They mostly contain ammonia and are usually legal in most places. Certain sporting events have banned their use in competition, but that typically does not expand to to actual illegality.

Smelling Salts in the Media

Smelling salts are popular in the media because the reaction that people have to it can be so strong. Take for example Joe Rogan & Theo Von here.

Joe & Theo Trying Smelling Salts

Other Smelling Salt Resources on the Internet

For more reading on smelling salts, check these out:

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