Recent attempts by the UK government to ban various substances under the nitrite, or “poppers” as they’re called by users, have once again raised questions regarding public use and lasting political stigma.
On the 23rd of February 2016, Karen Bradley, an MP at the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, commissioned the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to provide an assessment on any potential harmful effects as well as psychoactivity of alkyl nitrites. This may have been in preparation for the Psychoactive Substances Act update that took place on May 26, 2016.
Government Study Reaffirms Poppers Are Safe to Use
The assessment that was given on negative effects as well as the psychoactive nature of alkyl nitrites by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) determined that their earlier findings from 2011 had not changed.
Their previous evaluation, in relation to poppers being a psychoactive substance, was that alkyl nitrites do not meet the requirements given under the current definition of a “psychoactive substance” in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Therefore they do not need to be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971.
In simpler terms the report concluded that although misuse or abuse of this substance can lead to health complications, the amount of side effects it has is insufficient to constitute a social problem. Therefore it would not be added to the list of prohibited substances under the Psychoactive Substances Act, which subsequently removes it from the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971.
Why Do Politicians Want to Restrict Poppers Even Though They are Safe to Use?
Nitrites have a long history of use for sexual enhancement. They have not been associated with widespread behavioral problems or negative side effects.
When discussing nitrites, the legal aspects bear great importance because of the substance’s unique situation of being both a medically approved product while also an industrial chemical agent. What the report doesn’t state, and what is difficult to find, is the reason why the substance is so often regulated. Unlike other substances on the market, such as tobacco, alcohol, glue or even cough syrup, no reports can be found related to deaths, illnesses, or even crimes associated with nitrite use. Yet nitrites are far more heavily regulated than cough syrup, which has a history of abuse both by teens as well as makers of methamphetamine.
To illustrate this point even further, let’s look at these statistics as reported the Lancet medical journal and archived on the BBC website in 2014:
|Estimated Users in UK||40 million||10 million||30 thousand||400 thousand|
|Recorded deaths/year||40 thousand||114 thousand||50-60||0|
Why the General Populace Misunderstands Safety Related to Popper Use
Stigmatization and bias have played a major role in the public’s perception of nitrites for recreational use. It was previously believed that the use of poppers was directly related to HIV/ AIDS. However, there have been a number of studies that suggest no correlation between the two (Kennedy, 1988).
Alkyl nitrite is a non-addictive, legal substance. Inhaled directly from the bottle, it delivers a short high and relaxes muscles throughout the body, the main reason it also has a long history of being prescribed as treatment for angina by health professionals.
Popper User Practices That are Unsafe
Like many household chemicals and products, there are dangers to nitrite use that one must be aware of. Nitrites should not be used with drugs such as Viagra. This drug and others similar to it can decrease blood pressure to dangerous levels. Mixing substances without medical supervision is never recommended.
The use of nitrites may have added risks for individuals with anemia or glaucoma , and those with enzyme deficiencies that make them more prone to methaemoglobinaemia. Nitrites lower blood pressure and increase heart rate.
Safety Regarding New Popper Formulations
As we’ve discussed above, traditional nitrites are generally safe when used properly. However, the same cannot be said of some newer formulations on the market. An unfortunate side effect of public misunderstanding and government stigmatization is that it has pushed nitrite use underground, resulting in less than scrupulous distributors concocting unlicensed formulas.
Manner of usage, stigma, environment, and the general health of an individual should always be focal points in determining whether nitrites are safe to use or not. Is the nitrite sold by a reputable distributor with the proper licenses or is this simply someone making the product in their home with no quality control or testing?
Amyl nitrites are arguably the safest of the nitrite family. Unfortunately, due to government regulation and stigmatization, by the late 1960’s amyl nitrite required a prescription, so it was replaced by butyl nitrite. Butyl lasted until around 2010 when it was once again regulated by the United States government, which brings us to isobutyl nitrite.
Until 2010, isobutyl nitrite was used in most “popper” formulations in the United States. Following this the primary ingredient in “poppers”, isobutyl nitrite, was substituted for isopropyl nitrite. At this time, distributors began selling differing mixtures and qualities, each time potentially resulting in a degradation in quality.
Making Poppers Safe for Everyone
Alcohol and tobacco are a greater detriment to society and one’s health than nitrites which are comparably safer. Like any substance, the danger lies in the manner in which they are utilized. The deregulation of nitrites, alkyl nitrites in particular, would allow manufacturers to properly label and control usage.
While legal reasons restrict distributors from affirming that nitrites are safe to use for consumption as an inhalant, as the government has proved once again, the substance does not fit the description of a psychoactive substance that is directly responsible for health related issues or social problems.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppers BBC (16 March 2016) ACMD review of alkyl nitrites (poppers)
Retrieved from the gov.uk website:
BBC (17 September, 2014) Most Dangerous Drugs
Retrieved from the bbc.co.uk website:
The Lancet (19 June, 2014) Poppers maculopathy
Retrieved from the Lancet.com website:
Poppers, (23 October 2012)
Retrieved from the drugscience.org.uk website:
lgbt.foundation (11 November, 2011) Get informed! – Poppers
Retrieved from the lgbt.foundation website:
The National Archives (4 August 2016) Psychoactive Substances Act 2016
Retrieved from the legislation.gov.uk website:
Wikipedia (4 August 2016) Alkyl nitrites
Retrieved from the Wikipedia.org website:
ACMD report (2011) “Consideration of the Novel Psychoactive Substances (‘Legal Highs’): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/novel-psychoactivesubstances-report-2011
Kennedy, Edward, U.S. Senate, Chair Committee on Labor and Human Resources. “REPORT of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources.”Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Amendments of 1988. Section 4015. 1988.
Haverkos, H. W., Dougherty, J. A., & National Institute on Drug Abuse. (1988). Health hazards of nitrite inhalants. Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse ; Washington, DC : For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O.