Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she wants to explicitly remove any legal ban on supplying poppers, a muscle-relaxing drug used by gay men during sex.
In a letter to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, she acknowledges the law on the
liquid, whose scientific name is alkyl nitrites, is uncertain. Possession is not illegal but supply can sometimes be an offence.
Poppers, used recreationally since the 1970s, give an instant high when inhaled, usually from a bottle, and work as a
muscle relaxant. The government's Frank drugs information website says:
Poppers have a strong solvent smell and are often sold as 'room aromas', 'deodorisers' and 'leather cleaners', but they're not actually used in
this way. They can be found in sex shops, clubs, market stalls and online. Because poppers increases blood flow and can relax the walls of the anus and vagina, some people take it while they're having sex.
During a Commons debate in
2016, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt declared himself a user and asked for poppers to be specifically excluded from the Psychoactive Substances Bill - aimed at stopping the use of legal highs - arguing that banning supply would be fantastically stupid.
MPs rejected his call and the bill passed into law without this exemption.
But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) advised ministers that poppers would not fall into the scope of the Psychoactive Substances Act because, unlike legal
highs, they did not have a direct effect on the central nervous system.
However, this view was thrown into doubt in 2018 when a Court of Appeal judgement confirmed that substances which have only an indirect psychoactive effect, such as poppers,
could still be covered by the legislation.
Offsite Comment: Have We Banned Poppers by Mistake?
The UK Government has decided to reverse its homophobic ban on poppers.
Ministers had previously announced the alkyl nitrites would be outlawed next month under their far-reaching Psychoactive Substances Act.
Now after robust criticism from
Tory Crispin Blunt and Labour Andy Burnham the Home Office have announced that poppers will be excluded from the ban. In a silly attempt at saving face the said that it was advised that poppers do not directly stimulate or depress the central nervous
system . which means they are not technically a psychoactive drug.
Crime Creation Minister Karen Bradley accepted the advice and passed it on to police to ensure people are not criminalised.
Before the government U-turn sex shops were
due to face up to seven years' jail for selling them when the Psychoactive Substances Act takes force next month.
Crispin Blunt had told the Commons :
There are some times when something is proposed which
becomes personal to you and you realise the government is about to do something fantastically stupid.
Theresa May has been criticised over the Act, which also bans laughing gas (right). And I think in those circumstances one has a
duty to speak up.
I use poppers, I out myself as a popper user, and would be directly affected by this legislation. I'm astonished then to find that it's proposing to be banned and frankly so would many other gay men. And if I
follow my own mindset reaction to this it simply serves to bring the whole law into disrepute.
In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, Andy Burnham said poppers have beneficial health and relationship effects and were an
important issue for the gay community.
The UK's poppers manufacturers should be allowed to operate while the government reviews the product's legality, the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said:
Poppers have been around for decades,The evidence shows
they don't pose any great risk to health, and that's why they have never been banned before.
Frankly they could have been made exempt from the new act without the need for a review, but the government didn't want to admit they had
got it wrong. While there is a review ongoing, of course the legitimate businesses that produce poppers should be allowed to continue to operate.
The government's psychoactive substances bill will come into force on 6 April, making
poppers illegal in the UK. In response to calls to exempt the product from the bill in January, the government announced a review of the ban, which is expected to report before the summer recess in July, leaving a window of around three months in which
UK poppers manufacturers risk going bust.
Poppers is the name given to the chemicals alkyl nitrites, which, when sniffed, give the user a short, sharp head rush. The substance was first circulated as an angina medicine before emerging as a party
drug on the gay scene in the 1970s.
Poppers are particularly, though not exclusively, used by gay and bisexual men to enhance sexual pleasure, as they relax the muscles and make it easier to have anal sex. They are sold for about £5 a bottle in
most sex shops and some cornershops and are available for anybody over the age of 16 to buy.
Offsite Article: The poppers ban...Will it criminalise gay users?