Products that do not contain alkyl nitrites are being sold as “poppers”. It’s a growing trend that requires clarification on nitrites and other compounds being marketed as poppers. It’s very important to differentiate between what is traditionally known as a popper, which is created with alkyl nitrites, and what is falsely being sold as poppers today.
Recreational uses for sexual enhancement with poppers were discovered around the 1950’s and grew in popularity through the 60’s. Although there was no research to suggest that amyl nitrites were an effective aphrodisiac, it had gained a reputation within the British entertainment industry for intensifying sexual relations. The reputation moved across the pond to the United States were nitrites caught on, among gay men, in the club culture of the 1970’s disco era and into the 1990’s rave scene.
Amyl nitrites had arguably been the most widely used of the nitrite family, but by 1969, required a prescription. It was soon replaced by butyl and then isobutyl nitrite, which is the highest quality nitrite that is currently available without a prescription. Due to significant misunderstanding and a long history of misrepresentation, it is typically sold as room deodorizer or head cleaner as retailers are prohibited from selling or marketing the product for recreational use.
Which brings us to the topic at hand, certain manufacturers are marketing and distributing various mixtures in the same manner that nitrites have been traditionally presented. These newer, unregulated formulations may pose significant risks and, what’s worse, they’re being sold under the name poppers. Typically, what is recognized as poppers, within the LGBTQIA community, has been based on alkyl nitrites which are liquids that produce fumes and are inhaled directly from a small glass bottle. They have been in use for decades without directly posing a risk to the public, as was again recently clarified in January when the British Parliament asked the question Are Poppers a Psychoactive Substance.
The newer mixtures are propellants and aerosols that are made of different chemical compounds like chloroethane, which is sprayed onto a rag and inhaled. Chloroethane also known as ethyl chloride can induce a rare fatal arrhythmia in some individuals, known as “sudden sniffing death.” More common serious side effects include delirium in the short term, as well as potentially permanent impairment in memory, executive functioning, and neuropathy (Hall 2014).
Political Context that Led to the Unregulated Environment
Alkyl nitrites are arguably the safest of the nitrite family. Although there has been no evidence showing that the use of nitrites should cause societal concern there has been increased regulation on the recreational use of nitrites. The general opinion on message boards and chat rooms by nitrite users is that the stigmatization of the male homosexual community is the primary cause for the consistent government obstacles.
The late 80’s brought a new virus called HIV which turned into the so-called AIDS epidemic. The prevalence of AIDS within the gay community worked to enhance the negative image of homosexual men. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus was initially viewed as a “gay disease” and this may have been one of the causes of increased inspection or regulation in relation to nitrites.
The LGBTQIA movement was still in its infancy at this time and, during that time, understanding of HIV disease was still not clear. Research has since discredited all connection between nitrites and HIV/AIDS. NAT (National AIDS Trust), the UK’s leading policy and campaigning charity on HIV recently sent out a report in support of Amendment 5, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, leaving the provisions of the Bill as they stand, in relation to alkyl nitrites. Government organizations and the media continue questioning whether poppers are safe to use. The results remain the same.
Tory Crispin Blunt an MP revealed in the British House of Commons that even he takes poppers. He felt the strong need to disclose this information in hopes that it would prevent a new bill from passing. The new bill would have criminalized trustworthy vendors that operate under the control of the government. He argued that passing that bill would drive consumers and vendors underground leading to more dangerous product and activity. Clearly, he was absolutely right and is the reason for us writing this article in regards to detrimental US regulation and misunderstanding.
Nitrites Miscategorized in the Literature as a Drug or Psychoactive Substance
We are coming into a new era but the idea that homosexuality is a deviant act still lingers. Many reputable media outlets and government officials still refer to nitrites as a psychoactive substance. From inception, nitrites have had 2 primary factors in relation to recreational use. The first factor is that it relaxes certain smooth muscles in the body, making it easier for men to receive penetration. The second factor is a moment of released inhibitions but the research in this area is not conclusive.
Unscrupulous Producers Purposefully Ignore Safety or Quality Control
The name poppers has been in use within the gay community for over forty years now. Within the community of users, it is viewed as a substance with benefits similar to Viagra.
Timothy M. Hall wrote in the article titled Sometimes Poppers Are Not Poppers: Huffing as an Emergent Health Concern among MSM Substance Users that the newest poppers on the market are being made with more harmful “huffing” solvents, like acetone, gasoline and ethyl chloride. New users of poppers may not be aware that these substances are more harmful. The new substances being sold as poppers haven’t been in use for the length of time that alkyl nitrites have and the long-term health effects haven’t been documented.
Why Nitrites Need to Come Under Standard FDA Oversight
Now that LGBT rights are being recognized as human rights, regulations need to be reviewed and controlled in a manner that benefits society. FDA approvals and regulations need to be set according to the research that has been done. Classifying it as non-marketable for sexual uses leads only to government oversight of solutions used as cleaning products and room odorizers, which means producers may not add safe chemicals to their formulations. Since some folks inhale poppers for recreational and personal, sexual purposes, the oversight should focus on that use as well.
Unregulated poppers formulations leave consumers vulnerable to long-term neurocognitive damage and possible death. Properly regulating poppers will help control unscrupulous vendors from distributing rogue formulations like chlorethane. It will also lead to standardization of labeling and quality control of the products sold. This will not only benefit the general health in the LGBT community, it will allow the FDA to properly regulate the distribution and use of poppers for the safety of all recreational and personal users. Here at Nitrite.org, we sincerely hope that some common sense can be used in the US to follow Britain’s lead and protect the gay community that has been harmed and stigmatized more than enough over the last several decades.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (14 October 2014) Timothy M. Hall, Stephen Shoptaw, Cathy J. Reback Sometimes Poppers Are Not Poppers: Huffing as an Emergent Health Concern among MSM Substance Users. Retrieved from the ncbi.nlm.nih.gov website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399803/
Frances Perraudin, The Guardian (20 January 2016) Tory MP Crispin Blunt: ‘I out myself as poppers user’ Retrieved from the theguardian.com website: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/20/tory-mp-crispin-blunt-poppers-drug-policy
Psychoactive Substances Bill – Report Stage debate: Amendment 5 Exempting alkyl nitrites (‘poppers’) from the provisions of the Bill Briefing from NAT (National AIDS Trust) (January 2016) Retrieved from the nat.org.uk website: http://www.nat.org.uk/media/Files/Policy/2016/NAT_briefing_Report_Stage_Psych_Subs_Bill.pdf
Jim Larkins, FrontiersMedia (5 February 2015) Gay Men & Poppers: A Love Story Retrieved from the frontiersmedia.com website: https://www.frontiersmedia.com/featured-stories/2015/02/05/gay-men-poppers-love-story/
Wikipedia.org (last modified 1 September 2016) Retrieved from the en.wikipedia.org website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppers
Wikipedia.org (last modified 1 September 2016) Retrieved from the en.wikipedia.org website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chloroethane