health, fitness and social responsibility

What Does Popper Use Have to Do with De-stigmatizing Gay Sex?

As a non-profit organization dedicated to the de-stigmatization of any action taken by the LGBT community, http://Nitrite.org  is committed to fostering LGBT rights throughout the US. We are particularly focused on the use of nitrites, also known as “poppers”. There has been quite a lot of about nitrites in the news lately with the recent decision in Britain to maintain their status as legal to purchase for personal use, which is in stark juxtaposition to the US’s stance that they still must be regulated by the FDA and not available for human consumption. 

It has never been gay love, but gay sex that has always been at the forefront of the discussion regarding LGBT rights, popper use, and government regulation. The heterosexual community has historically been very uncomfortable with physical acts of love between members of our community. 


What can we do to normalize the act of sex between two same sex people? In this article, we look at the history of nitrite use in order to educate allies and dissenters alike about the gross information that has often been distributed on the topic due to stigma and anti-gay rhetoric.


This post is meant to highlight the injustices surrounding the sale, distribution, and purchase of nitrites simply because of their use primarily by the gay community. Over and over again, the government’s own studies have shown a complete lack of harm. It is only because of stigma against LGBT individuals, as well as an unfortunate grouping with substances that are harmful if used for recreational purposes, that there has been such legal restrictions within the US.

A Brief History

Amyl nitrite is a synthetic liquid initially used as a vasodilator for the treatment of angina pectoris. That’s right, it was prescribed by doctors as a treatment for a disease. Nitrite relaxes the smooth muscles in the body, aiding in alleviating angina symptoms. For our discussion’s purposes, it’s also important to note that the sphincter muscles of the anus and vagina are also smooth muscles relaxed by nitrite inhalation.  


So, like most recreational substances, the initial uses were medicinal. However, by the 1950s recreational uses were discovered. The relaxing effect on the muscles surrounding the anus as well as a sense of heightened arousal made this a perfect substance for homosexual men.

This drug became a favorite among gay men in Britain’s show business industry. It had a reputation for being an aphrodisiac and enhancing orgasms but there hasn’t been any research to support or deny this. It’s likely, as is the case with most aphrodisiacs, that there simply exists a placebo effect based on belief.

By the 1960’s, amyl nitrite had made its way across the pond and gained popularity in homosexual hotspots like  New York and San Francisco. Historical information can be limited as, at this time, homosexual acts were still considered a crime or a sign of mental illness. Amyl nitrites remained popular in the gay club culture through the 1970’s and 80’s and became known as  “poppers”, due to the popping sound made when opening a bottle.


The Beginning of the End


In the late 1980’s, a new series of steps began to be taken to regulate nitrites. Following each restriction, producers simply made small changes, often of only one molecule in the formula, to bypass the restriction.


Due to a lack of government oversight in quality and safety, new street formulations began to appear that also contained additions outside of pure nitrites. Just as street drugs like cocaine are often cut with low quality products like rat poison, street poppers began to contain harmful substances that cheapened production costs as well as possibly had pyschoactive properties. As numerous studies have shown, pure poppers are not actually psychoactive, so the term “drug” is often used erroneously in reference to them.

Degraded formulations of nitrites, which have also incorrectly come to be called poppers, cause a major risk for users. How do users differentiate between the poppers of the 70’s and 80’s and the poppers of today? Without approval by the government for recreational use, users are forced to trust distributors who may be less than honest. They can’t actually know what is in the bottle.


Today’s poppers are often sold as room deodorizers or solvents. Since they are not allowed to be marketed for human consumption, there is no requirement to list the ingredients on the label or go through any kind of safety testing. This has led to not only misinformation and stigma, but also actual harm because users may purchase a product that is not actually safe like original poppers formulations.


Where Are We Now?


In an attempt to prevent a recent bid to ban poppers under the Psychoactive Substances Act (http://1.legislation.gov.uk ) that took place on May 26, 2016, the UK’s Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt admitted to using the substance. He outed himself in hopes of preventing black market formulations that would surely arise. A new investigation by the government reaffirmed that poppers were safe to use. This same level of common sense and acceptance has, unfortunately, not made its way to the US as of yet, which http://Nitrate.org aims to change.


As we stated above, the US’s lack of acceptance has led to dangerous situations here for users. In 2014, UCLA professor Timothy M. Hall wrote about finding in a study on American men that have sex with other mem (MSM).  In the article Sometimes Poppers Are Not Poppers: Huffing as an Emergent Health Concern among MSM Substance Users, he warns  that the newest poppers on the market are being made with more harmful chemicals like “huffing” solvents.


Proper regulation for the distribution and use of poppers will prohibit dishonest vendors from continuing to market huffing solvents and aerosals as what is traditionally known as “poppers”. Shady distributors benefit from these faulty regulations by producing formulations with substitutions like ethyl chloride (also known as chloroethane), which can cause potentially permanent impairment in memory, executive functioning and in rare cases fatal arrhythmia (Tormoehlen, et al. 2014). 

The risks of misrepresenting chloreothane and other additions to nitrites within a community of people, that still does not live as publicly as we would like, should be of great concern to all of us. The US has made great progress recently, but, as we have seen in states like South Carolina, we still have a long long way to go. 

Nitrite use within the gay community is just one part of a much larger struggle to overcome stigma within the US, but one we hope to win soon.


References


The Guardian (22 March, 2016) Poppers escape ban on legal highs 

Retrieved from thehttp://theguardian.com  Website:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/22/poppers-alkyl-nitrites-drug-escapes-ban-on-legal-highs …


http://nitrite.org  (27 August, 2016) Are Poppers Safe to Use? Government Report Clears Up Any Confusion

Retrieved from the http://nitrite.org . Website:

http://www.nitrite.org/poppers-safe-use-government-report-clears-confusion/ …


The National Archives (4 August 2016) Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

Retrieved from thehttp://legislation.gov.uk  website:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2016/2/contents/enacted …


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 thehttp://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov  website:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4399803/ …


Tormoehlen LM, Tekulve KJ, Nanagas KA. Hydrocarbon toxicity: A review. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 2014;52(5):479–89. [PubMed]

​Note from Pride matters: This article is posted in good faith in order for people to make informed decisions about use of amynl nitrate. It is not the policy of Pride matters to push the use of any drug, legal or otherwise,  but to inform people of social views, allowing ourselves to make our own choices. 

We do not condone the use of illegal substances.

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