TGA To Ban Poppers, But Users Want Regulation Instead


TGA popper ban
A selection of "poppers". Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is planning to ban amyl nitrite products – also known as poppers – with the same drug class as heroin and marijuana but proponents of the sex drug say it will drive a rise in riskier alternatives.

The TGA has announced it plans to ban alkyl nitrites – including amyl nitrite – because of “increasing reports of misuse and abuse” of the drug, and cases of retinal damage as a side effect of use.

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“Ophthalmologists in Australia are reporting an increase in the number of cases of maculopathies (retinal damage) caused by recreational use of poppers/’lubricants’ containing alkyl nitrites. These reports have also been observed internationally,” the TGA explained.

Poppers are used recreationally by some in the gay community, giving users a brief head rush while clubbing and relaxing muscles during anal sex.

But while it’s currently illegal to sell, supply or inhale products containing the five types of alkyl nitrites unless prescribed by a doctor, popper products occupy a legal grey area and can be bought labelled “vinyl cleaner”, “DVD cleaner”, room deodoriser or similar.

The proposed ban would mean those caught selling, using or in possession of the substance would likely face criminal charges.

‘A more targeted ban’

In a blog post on his website, HIV prevention researcher Daniel Reeders said there had been “very few” reports of serious harm in the five decades poppers have been used.

“In the EU in 2007 and in Canada in 2013, regulatory action was taken to ban the sale of the chemical formulations commonly included in poppers products,” he said.

“This in turn caused some manufacturers to include different formulations.

“Users have reported the reformulated products often cause an intense headache, ‘blue lips’ and a characteristic chesty cough in the days after use.”

He pointed to a study in medical journal The Lancet that attributed the recent cases of “poppers maculopathy” to the reformulation of the products.

“A more targeted ban, leaving long-standing formulations legal, would reduce the risks of rare but serious clinical harms,” he said.

“[It would] prevent the import and widespread uptake of copycat products whose risks are substantially unknown.”

A report in The British Journal of Ophthalmology last year suggested the damage to the popper users’ retinas was being caused by the ingredient isopropyl nitrite.

Petition calling for regulation

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A Change.org petition is also calling for the TGA to abandon the proposed ban on poppers and instead “regulate the substance for safe use” by receptive sexual partners.

“Poppers are not a drug of dependance or addiction and result in little harm,” activist Steve Spencer wrote in the petition.

“The TGA has proven capable of regulating Viagra (a comparably dangerous substance) for the benefit of active partners.”

The TGA is accepting public submissions into their interim report on rescheduling Amyl until October 10. Submissions can be made here.

A similar ban was considered in the United Kingdom but rejected by the government in 2016 after an advisory body found the use of poppers was “not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem.”