In Defence of Poppers: The Banned 'Gay Drug' That Everyone Loves to Ridicule
The government have banned a new spate of legal highs – including poppers, the beloved solvent that opens up you and your arsehole to new worlds of fun.
Image via Wiki Commons
When I woke up this morning, a slither of sunlight was creeping through my window. 'It's Friday,' I thought. 'I can be drunk in eight hours.' I kissed my girlfriend goodbye, got on the tube with a spring in my step and began checking the news on my phone. Immediately, the sky became overcast. The sounds of the other commuters dulled to a mute. There, in the palm of my hand, was the news I have been quietly dreading for much of my adult life: The Government are banning poppers.
It was announced today that poppers – AKA amyl nitrate, AKA the "room odorisers" that nobody in human history has ever used to "odorise" a room – would fall under David Cameron's new blanket ban on legal highs, along with a whopping 500 other substances. These include nitrous oxide – more widely known as laughing gas, or NOS – and the synthetic cannabis substitute, Spice. Under the landmark Psychoactive Substances Bill, most of these drugs will be illegal to produce, supply and distribute, and anyone found doing so could find themselves in jail for up to seven years.
Over the last decade, the war on British partying has been mounting. Soaring rent prices in our capital and stringent local council policies have led to the closure of some of our favourite clubs, including gay bar The Joiners Arms and Peoples in Holloway. Misguided drug legislation has seen cannabis moved from class C to B, magic mushrooms outlawed and mephedrone criminalised (granted, that last one isn't such a bad thing, unless you enjoy giving your nostrils what basically amounts to a hydrochloric acid cat piss enema).
And now? Now, policy-makers are taking away Britain's god-given right to huff nitrous oxide out of children's party balloons and chemically coax open our arseholes with a small, potent bottle of liquid. Is nothing sacred?
Sure, poppers are notorious for giving you a 20-second high in exchange for a two-minute residual headache. And I'm not claiming they're not harmful; they cause a surge of blood to the brain, essentially lightly asphyxiating you. Which can't be a good thing. I didn't feel too hot after making my way through an entire bottle at G-A-Y that one time.
Yet, while I can appreciate that the legislation comes with our health in mind, banning substances like poppers isn't saving us from ourselves; it's policing relatively harmless behaviours and pushing us towards others that could ultimately be more harmful. It's patronising and reductive. As the government's former chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, puts it, the ban is "pointless" because "people will just go back to cocaine and heroin... It is an extraordinarily simplistic and retrograde step. It won't reduce harms, it may well increase harms."
I, for one, do not plan to start taking cocaine or heroin: they are much more expensive than poppers and roughly 1 million times more likely to kill you. Why spend £50 on a gram of cocaine with no cocaine in it, when I could – for a steal, at just £5 a bottle – give myself a dizzying poppers-induced headrush with none of the stress of having to locate a credit card or a DVD case or a piece of kitchen roll for when your nose starts bleeding from all the Persil you've just shoved up it?
Even if the legal high ban doesn't encourage people to turn to your traditional bad-for-you drugs, there are plenty of other, more dangerous substances to ingest, of which many remain legal to buy: tobacco, alcohol and solvents, to name just a few. All have been found by The Lancet Medical Journal to cause much more harm to the body than poppers. Unless, of course, you drink the poppers. Which you really obviously should not do.
And has anyone in Cameron's government spared a thought for the people who rely on poppers for their more practical uses? They are famously the gay party drug, they relax the blood vessels and loosen up the muscles around the sphincter to enhance the pleasure and ease of anal sex.
Will users of poppers from within the gay community take this personally? "Poppers bring all the fun to the party," says John*, 29, a gay man from Nottingham. "Who hasn't had a poppers-induced dance coma to the sound of 'I Feel Love'? Our rights are slowly being taken away one at a time. How will all gay virgins take anal without pain now? How are we going to encourage tops to swap to bottoms? Gay sex will become vanilla and boring."
Without poppers, there's also the worry that more gay men will switch to the readily available club drugs – and facilitators of chemsex parties – like GHB or meth, both of which have seen a surge in popularity recently. Unlike these drugs, poppers are extremely unlikely to kill you, unless you have a pre-existing condition. And in terms of your altered behaviour when you're on them, the high is so fleeting that you remain largely in a cogent state and aware of your actions.
At the moment, you can't get done for possession of poppers under the ban. But before you rush to buy a year's supply, think about how the new legislation amounts to a crackdown on our freedom to have a good time with the help of products that are less dangerous to us than many still on the market. It's hypocritical. After all, we'll all be getting pissed after work today, won't we?
*Names have been changed
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