Alkyl nitrites, commonly known as poppers, pose very little chance of addiction, risky consumption habits or other psychosocial problems.
Many LGBTI people, but especially gay and bisexual men use poppers for recreational purposes or to enhance sex.
A new study found little evidence of typical dependency characteristics, including health, social, legal and financial problems. It also found no correlation between popper use and mental health or psychological stress.
Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) surveyed more than 800 men aged 18 to 35. Lead researcher Dr Daniel Demant, welcomed the decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to not ban poppers.
In 2018, the TGA issued a temporary ban on poppers. It put them onto Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard – the same schedule as heroin.
But thanks to a vocal campaign from the LGBTI community and passionate submissions to the TGA, it backtracked on the ban. The TGA instead elected to classify them as a Schedule 3 drug. From February 2020, poppers will be available over the counter in pharmacies.
Poppers users will be made ‘overnight criminals’
Demant described the ban as creating ‘overnight criminals’ of the estimated more than 100,000 Australian users.
‘What we see with this research is that poppers are a very commonly used drug in the LGBT community, both recently and over their lifetime,’ Demant said.
‘Most of the users are already oppressed or marginalized based on their social identity as gay or bisexual men. This creates a question as to whether there would have been a discriminatory element in banning a substance with such a low risk profile.
Currently, poppers are available on prescription from pharmacies. But many people buy them illicitly at sex-on-premises venues or LGBTI bars. A vial for up to AU$50,(US$34.60/€30.63) despite costing a couple of cents to manufacture.
The new TGA decision to regulate poppers rather than banning them hopefully paves the way for some measure of quality control as well as the removal of the ‘extreme profit margin’ that exists now Demant said.
‘We could stop pretending that poppers are sold for anything other than getting people high,’ he said.
‘And once we do offer it in pharmacies, we would have something made to the highest standards for people to use.’