If you have ever watched a hockey game, you have probably seen the players on the bench sniffing small white packets of something. You may have wondered what, exactly, those players are doing, and what the point of it is. If so, you are not alone.
Hockey Players usually sniff salt. They sniff it because they are said to cause increased energy and alertness, giving players a jolt of vigor as they return to the ice.
In the rest of this article, I will go into detail about what smelling salts are, why players use them, and how they work. I will answer questions you have regarding things such as the legality of smelling salts, the medical benefits of smelling salts, and the history of smelling salts. Although these salts are popular among hockey players, they existed for a long time before the sport!
What Are Smelling Salts?
Smelling salts are usually made of a diluted compound of ammonia, water, and ethanol. They can also sometimes be a mixture of ammonium carbonate and perfume. They most often come in a glass capsule wrapped in cotton or netting. When crushed, the smelling salts are activated, which is when you see players waving them underneath their noses for increased energy.
Why Do Hockey Players Use Smelling Salts?
The theory is that smelling salts cause increased energy and alertness, allowing players to remain totally focused and invigorated as they prepare to return to the ice. Many players believe that the use of smelling salts gives them an edge.
How Do Smelling Salts Work?
When smelled, smelling salts stimulate the vagus nerve. This nerve is associated with parasympathetic control of the heart and lungs, among other things. The smell of smelling salts is very harsh and bitter, and it irritates the interior of the nose. This triggers a breathing reflex which causes players to inhale quickly and deeply.
The breathing reflex helps to restart your respiratory systems and sends a burst of oxygen to the brain, causing a spike of adrenaline and energy.
In fact, smelling salts have been known to be so effective that they can wake an unconscious person.
Are Smelling Salts Addictive?
Most people believe that smelling salts are not addictive. You do not need a prescription to buy them, and you can easily access them online or in many sports stores.
However, WebMD warns that, although smelling salts do not have many recorded negative effects, the use of them for sports purposes does carry the hazardous risk of becoming addictive.
Most players who use smelling salts seem to use them about once or twice per game—once at the beginning, and perhaps once during an intermission.
Although they may not be physically addictive, there is always the chance of becoming psychologically dependent on the adrenaline boost that smelling salts provide you with. As with any performance-enhancing substance, please use it with caution.
Are Smelling Salts Legal?
Yes, smelling salts are one hundred percent legal. Although many players believe them to have performance-enhancing effects, smelling salts are not technically considered to be performance-enhancing drugs.
In fact, they are not considered to be drugs at all. While some professional sports, such as boxing, have banned smelling salts, they remain totally legal in hockey, football, and many powerlifting and strongman competitions.
Can Smelling Salts Hurt You?
Smelling salts are generally very safe. However, there are some instances where smelling salts can be harmful. For example, since they cause a burst of energy and adrenaline, smelling salts may enable a player to push past their limits. If your body is telling you that it is time to take a break, yet you use smelling salts to reinvigorate yourself, you may increase your own risk of injury.
Similarly, if you are already actually injured, smelling salts may temporarily allow you to feel better and ignore your injury to keep going. However, pushing past your body’s signals that you need to stop (in other words, pain) can be very dangerous.
Finally, Healthline.com warns that at the end of the day, ammonia is toxic. Although it is diluted when used in smelling salts, using it too frequently can cause serious irritation of the nose and lungs.
Where Did Smelling Salts Come From?
Smelling salts have been widely used all throughout history, since long before they became popular in sports. They are mentioned in historical Roman writings as having been in use since ancient Roman times, and they were also popularly used in Victorian Britain to revive fainting women.
Historically, they were mostly used to revive fainting people. However, some believe that smelling salts may be behind the infamous manic behavior of berserker warriors. Anyone who has seen the bizarre reactions of hockey players after sniffing smelling salts would not doubt this possibility!