Smelling Salts, What Are They?

Smelling salts are chemically stuffed compounds generally used to regain an alert state of mind and/or enhance performance. They are also known as ammonia inhalants. When they are opened, the ammonium carbonate found in the compound does the trick, essentially shocking your brain into alertness. Most salts are constructed in the same way some glow sticks in the sense that when they are “cracked” opened the liquid dissolves into the chemical solids thus releasing the ammonia gas. The use of these salts dates back to the 13th century, where at some point they were a must have in first aid boxes of large organizations (In more recent times organizations included The Red Cross & St. John’s Abulance).

Modern uses

smelling saltsNowadays, these salts are being used by sportsmen and women looking to enhance performance. In most sports, they have been used on those players who seem not to perform as expected. Some of the sports where these salts are used include:

  • Boxers generally will use ammonia inhalants between rounds or after a hard hit to regain alertness (Many modern boxing organizations have banned smelling salts in official matches).
  • Football staff used to use salts to revive players after an injury or hard hit, however, due to the jerking motion of most revivals and the effects on a potential spanial injury this has been discontinued. Smelling salts continue to be used in football to create an instant feeling of alertness and adrenaline before the next play.
  • Hockey players use salts in a similar fashion to football to give a boost of adrenaline during long games.
  • Heavy lifters will use smelling salts to give a big boost right before another lift.

There are famous athletes who are known to have used inhalant salts at one point of their careers. These athletes who have used this compound include the likes of: Carlos Boozer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. These athletes have kept a record of exemplary performance without negative effects from usage.

How it works

This compound relies on the ‘annoying’ ammonia carbonate to cause a reflexive action which causes the muscles that control the breathing process to perform faster. This is achieved when the mucous membranes of both the nose and the lungs are irritated. In addition, the smelling salt will enhance the activities of the heart and brain by activating the sympathetic nervous system.


Using the smelling salts comes with some benefits accrued to it. This explains the reason as to why it was preferred by aid organizations and presently by athletes. Some of the benefits include:

  • Enhances overall bodily performance by activation of the heart and brain which are the key components of the human body.
  • Helps in regaining the original state of on the athletes who gave lost their consciousness.
  • Acts fast thus plays a key role in saving time that would have been used in giving the athletes first aid.


  • The ammonia produced by the ammonia carbonate has a choking smell that may burn the nasal passages. There are no serious health problems that have been related to the repeated use of this compound.
  • Addiction is possible, however the strongly unpleasant smell makes it unlikely.
  • Some sports do not allow the use of smelling salts, however, most have no specific guidelines on the use of smelling salts other than to monitor their usage and effects.
  • The largest risk of using smelling salts is the aggravation of previous injuries, especially spinal- or heart-related injuries.

It is said that, “all that has an advantage also has a disadvantage.” Using salts wisely can be very beneficial to performance. There is of course the need to be cautious and know what you are doing. Read the back of the package and know what effects the salts have on you before you compete using them.

It is always advisable to always seek a medically qualified personnel’s advice before trying out the smelling salts. If you plan on using smelling salts, please weigh your options wisely!

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