Poppers Have Been Exploited for Over 40 Years


Who Has Been Stigmatizing Nitrite Users?

Poppers, now known as alkyl nitrites, have been exploited over the years by a number of different factions with different interests and perspectives on the topic. (1) The federal government used hate and fear of gays and the early AIDS epidemic to influence their regulatory behavior by ignoring facts presented to them by their own experts. (2) Writers posing as authorities, reported inaccurate information about poppers to further vilify them by spreading inaccurate information such as, reporting that the mob and federal government saw opportunities to make significant money preying on the appeal to gay users. (3) Manufacturers manipulated the formulas to avoid legal actions, but by doing so, changed the formulas beyond recognition. (4) New harmful volatile huffing agents are being marketed as “poppers” when they are actually dangerous substances. Through all of this, business thrived and the users of poppers have been sold a variety of goods, perhaps not meeting their expectations.

Poppers or alkyl nitrites are solutions which have vasodilatory effect on the human body, and are sometimes used for recreational purposes. This means that the smooth muscle tissue relaxes in the vessel walls and this results in wide blood vessels. Popper is the local name given to such amyl nitrites which were inhaled to enhance sexual experiences in the 1970s and later to intensify reactions to the lights and sounds in the club scene.

This trend continues to date in rave parties and other social settings where new formulas referred to as alkyl nitrites replaced amyl nitrites. As laws have become increasingly restrictive classifying amyl nitrite as a Schedule III substance, formulas have been changed, along with the function some say. Urban 75 describes the situation, “Currently, the use and possession of poppers in NOT illegal, but the law is complex.

Poppers can be sold as ‘room odourisors’ but not inhalants, as this would classify them as a medicine and require a pharmacy to dispense them. If you got nabbed selling poppers as inhalants, you would be committing a civil offense and would be prosecuted by the Medicines Control Agency (part of the Department of Health).” This presents poppers in a nutshell.

Government Exploited Poppers by Ignoring Scientific Findings

The federal government used hate and fear of gays and the early AIDS epidemic to influence their regulatory behavior by ignoring facts presented to them by their own experts. As result, the US government has treated alkyl nitrites inconsistently over its history as well.

Frequently, their actions have been illogical and have defied intellectual research and sound facts to the contrary. Even though there was little evidence to prove that poppers presented a health risk, the use of poppers was once again restricted to a prescription in 1969.

This decision was based on reports (that cannot be validated) cited by the Gale Group, “During the 1960s, amyl nitrite, along with a variety of other drugs, including marijuana, heroin, opium, LSD, and amphetamines, made its way to U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam. When the soldiers returned to the U.S. after their tour of duty, many continued their poppers habit. The FDA reinstated its ban on amyl nitrite without a prescription in 1969, following reports from soldiers and former soldiers in the United States of serious problems caused by the drug. These problems included skin burns, fainting, dizziness, breathing difficulties, and blood anomalies.”  Meanwhile, numerous congressional study commissions determined that the use of poppers posed no significant health threat.

In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission failed to ban alkyl nitrites in their 1983 “Briefing Package on Petition HP82-1”, “The staff has not found sufficient data to Support the claim of a behavior disorder associated with volatile nitrite inhalation. Available injury data did not indicate a significant risk of personal injury or illness from room odorizer abuse.

These materials were prepared with the assistance of Chemical Hazards Program team members.” Unfortunately, they did ban the use of butyl nitrites in 1988 through US Code, Title 15, Chapter 47, §?2057a. Banning of butyl nitrite regardless of the evidence. That was after the “REPORT of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources”, The Hon. Edward M. Kennedy, Chairman U.S. Senate Washington, D.C. May 4,1988: REPORT of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources stated, “Because of the lack of significant health risks associated with nitrite use, and the fact that less than 3% of the population has ever used it, the HHS Report suggested no Federal legislation and recommended that alkyl nitrites not be treated as drugs.Based on these recommendations, the Committee concludes that no further Federal action as to alkyl nitrites is warranted. However, in view of the Report’s finding of somewhat increased use by high school students, the Committee recommends that the States consider prohibiting access by minors to alkyl nitrite products.” Regardless, the CPSC banned butyl nitrite use as inhalants. Clearly, the motivation for these actions were not scientifically based.

Writers Acting as Authorities Spread Inaccurate Information

Writers posing as authorities, reported inaccurate information about poppers to further vilify them by spreading inaccurate information such as, reporting that the mob and federal government saw opportunities to make significant money by manipulating the military and by preying on the appeal to gay users.

Chief amongst these was Ian Young in his article THE POPPERS STORY: The Rise and Fall and Rise of ‘the Gay Drug,‘ Ian Young tells of the involvement of the government creating a market for poppers through the military, by encouraging poppers use among the soldiers and by engaging the “mob” to capitalize on the market and profit by it. While proven to be inaccurate, Young says, “They apparently endorsed the use of poppers by military personnel in Vietnam as a way to relax from the stress of war.”

He also alleges that the mob infiltrated and controlled this enterprise, transporting to the US for sales. He continued, “The military in those days had a pretty casual attitude to the drug. This action by the US government opened the door to the mob’s involvement.” Even though this was not true, Young’s “authoritative status caused the misinformation to stick. That is kind of like telling a jury to ignore that statement! Besides, no one with authority was discussing alkyl nitrite poppers publicly!

Ted Bowman in his article, A Rebuttal of “THE POPPERS STORY The Rise and Fall of ‘The Gay Drug’ By Ian Young”, refutes most of the claims of Young,  and in fact, insists that Young’s article appears to be plagiarized from Stan Getschell’s article,  “THE COMPLETE POPPERS STORY The History of What Some Once Called ‘The Gay Drug’.”

Regarding the mob involvement, Bowman says, “Considering that poppers were legal at the time of the Vietnam War (the United States Congress banned the sale of alkyl nitrites in 1991), I have to wonder what role mob contacts would play in shipping room deodorizers to the battlefields of Southeast Asia. You’d think they’d have more lucrative things to do with their time.”

He further asserts that there is no evidence that the military promoted the use of popper.  Research into the impact of drug use in Vietnam cites numerous drug related issues, but never mentions poppers or alkyl nitrite. There is no evidence that use of poppers in Vietnam was common, yet Young spreads malicious lies to make that point.

Change of the Formulas

Manufacturers manipulated the formulas to avoid legal actions, but by doing so, changed the formulas beyond recognition.

Since the formulas were constantly changing to avoid the FDA regulation, the new products barely resemble original poppers or amyl nitrite. First in line was Clifford Hassing. The ban on amyl quickly became ineffective when in 1969, an enterprising gay medical student in California, Clifford Hassing, altered its atomic structure just slightly and applied for a patent and was awarded his patent in 1974.

NOCowLevel on Reddit said, “In the late 80s/early-late 90s amyl nitrite was scheduled so that you now need a prescription to get them. Butyl nitrite popped up and replaced it. Butyl lasted until around 2001-2004ish, … Butyl was controlled by the US gov. in early/mid 2000’s.

Then, isobutyl nitrite popped up. Isobutyl nitrite was used in almost every popper up until 2010, when the largest distributor of poppers, PWD (Pac West Distributing) was raided by the DEA and distribution of isobutyl nitrites as well as the PWD popper brand era came to an end.

They’re sold in the US for non-drug usage (as “video head cleaners” or “deodorizers”), but the branding and labeling is clearly marketing them as recreational drugs. The last three—cycloxehyl, isopentyl and isoamyl—are currently being promoted as “new formulas”, “USA-safe formulas”, “EU formulas” or similar – with the inevitable marketing hype associated: “Pure! Powerful! Improved!” Thus, prompted by evading legal restrictions, manufacturers have manipulated poppers by staying one step ahead of the law.

New Harmful Volatile Huffing Agents Are Marketed as Poppers

In an article in Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health psychiatrist and authority on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) behavior and issues Dr. Timothy Hall of the University of California, Los Angeles, reports that new substances that can be damaging and lethal are being masqueraded as “poppers”.

It turns out that the substance being inaccurately dubbed “poppers” consists of aerosols and chemicals used to freeze blemishes off people’s skin. According to Jim Larkin’s in Gay Men and Poppers: a Love Story, “It’s the same class of products as what’s sold as computer duster—or the local anesthesia a doctor uses before removing a skin tag.

Some users report that, contrary to the enhanced sensations of poppers, chloroethane products actually deaden sensations. As they are marketed en masse to the gay community, many men will be introduced to these dangerous products through sexual partners without realizing the danger they’re in.” This is not a slam on the gay men who may use poppers recreationally, and off label as defined by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, but rather an indictment of unscrupulous business men who are endangering unsuspecting users of what they believe to be traditional poppers by marketing counterfeit “poppers” products.

The Misunderstood History of Poppers

Throughout its brief history, poppers have been exploited and misrepresented to the benefit of the perpetrators. Counted among these are the federal government; individuals considering themselves authorities, yet spreading inaccurate information; the need to stay one step ahead of regulations, and manufacturers who are marketing harmful products as poppers “knock-offs.”

There have been many victims, including users who no longer have access to the original product they desire. One such victim was Joe Miller who was the owner of a popular brand and an advocate for poppers remaining legal. He was known for using his wealth to better the community. He took his life two days following the government raid on headquarters by the FDA in 2010.

He was a victim of irrational and vindictive actions aimed at the gay community who lack the power to defend themselves politically. The diversionary behavior now practiced by manufacturers has resulted in a complete lack of standards in the unregulated market.

Counterfeiters popped up overnight designing new substitution drugs each claiming to grab a piece of the business that was no longer producing the popular ‘Popper” product of the past. Some of these knock off poppers have proven to be harmful. For a comprehensive look at the legalities and issues, visit the advocacy not-for-profit nitrite.org. Their mission is to see that the inaccurate record is corrected and that the record is set straight so that accurate information will be used in the future to make decisions.