‘It’s a war on bottoms’: poppers may soon be banned in Australia pending a TGA decision

‘It’s a war on bottoms’: poppers may soon be banned in Australia pending a TGA decision
Image: Image: Damien Hinds. Art Director: Nik Dimopoulos. Bottle by Leo Herrera.

Amyl could soon be banned in Australia, pending a decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Poppers user Steve Spencer explains why the ban is part of a war on drugs.


The little bottle causing a stir across Australia – amyl, also known as poppers – is hitting headlines thanks to an impending decision by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), who may be banning the substance outright.

That’s right queers: no more popping down to the shop to pick up a bottle on the weekend, no more purchasing amyl online with ease, and good luck opening a bottle up at a club – the security and bouncers in our gay bars will just have a stronger excuse to kick you out.

The TGA met in June to amend the Poisons Standard, and have put forward a submission to severely restrict the use and availability of the chemicals that make up poppers.

In other words, the notoriously opaque TGA (the same body that kept PrEP out of our hands for years despite overwhelming evidence that it would help end the HIV epidemic) has suddenly decided they don’t like that we’re using poppers.

They’ve scrambled for evidence to support their stance and will undemocratically come to the decision we all know is inevitable – bye bye, poppers.

Amyl was popularised in the gay scene and the swingers scene during the late second half of the 20th century, and before that, had been used as a treatment for angina (don’t even think about telling the bouncer that you’re simply treating your angina).

Many of us know the benefits of amyl when it comes to anal sex. Its role as a blood vessel dilator and muscle relaxant have enabled an entire generation of gay men – or anyone that has wanted to explore butt stuff – to comfortably have sex.

It’s not a drug of dependence, nor is it addictive, and it has played a very important role as an enabler of affection, love, and exploration of one’s self and others. It’s also always been there for moments of queer celebration.

Basically, it’s a real hoot.

Various governments and health authorities have attempted to restrict its availability and use over time, to the point where it is currently being sold as either a leather or VHS cleaner.

Frankly, it’s all just part of the War on Drugs, the War on Pleasure, and the War on Bottoms.

Yes, I’m coining that last term, but honestly, this is the regulatory body that legalised and regulates the use of Viagra – an incredibly dangerous drug – just so older straight men can get a hard on (check out how Viagra was originally marketed, it’s pretty cringe).

This may have opened up avenues for pleasure for millions of men, and proven to be a benefit for queer men too, but what about us bottoms who want to open up an avenue for our pleasure?

When gay men, bottoms, women, and young people need something to assist their pleasure and sexual enjoyment like poppers, they’re simply told tough luck. Their access to these things are denied and pushed underground, and any health consequences are blamed on the individual rather than any accountability being taken by the authorities that pushed us to this point.

This is what stinks about this whole thing, it’s not the amyl – it’s the discriminatory nature of this move; it’s homophobic, it’s misogynistic, and it’s ageist.

Banning substances, pushing them underground, and creating a class of ‘bad people’ out of innocent users of poppers is what creates harm. Regulation and education reduce harm.

The responsible thing for the TGA to do would be to acknowledge the want and need for poppers, regulate its responsible production and use, and engage in public education.

Did you know that the chemicals in poppers that may leave a little burn on your nose after a long night or the concerns amongst doctors about affected eyesight did not exist until amyl manufacturers needed to circumvent bans on the ingredients of the original blend of poppers?

The original mixtures and current high-quality poppers from reputable manufacturers generally don’t result in these side effects.

So what evidence does the TGA have?

In their submission to amend the Poisons Standard, they reference a number of ophthalmologists and some genuine concerns they hold about impaired eyesight after long term, heavy use of poor-quality and poorly stored poppers.

Here are a few quick tips: throw out bottles after a month or two, always refrigerate your bottle, and only buy genuine high-quality poppers, for the sake of you and any lovers you may have over.

Simply put, there is no public health justification for banning poppers.

Just last year the UK Parliament sought to ban poppers, however they were lucky enough to have this discussion in the open – on the floor of the House of Commons, no less – rather than the conversation being kept behind closed doors and the decision being issued by decree.

To quote British Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who outed himself as an amyl user in the Houses of Parliament, any ban on poppers is “fantastically stupid.”

Blunt referenced the dangers of placing poppers in the hands of drug dealers rather than in shops, and the UK government’s own Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs found after much research that poppers use was“not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem.”

I didn’t understand the TGA’ s parochialism when they kept us from PrEP for so long, and I don’t understand why they’re now ignoring international experiences and research into the poppers and its use.
We need to shift the debate around poppers if we are going to keep the government at bay from our sources of pleasure and enjoyment.

Don’t compare poppers to alcohol and tobacco – two drugs that are regulated but legal. Start comparing poppers to hairdryers and can openers, because these two things cost our health system far more and cause significantly greater injury than poppers ever will.

Call this my swansong as an emphatic poppers user, call it a waste of time and activism, but when will you decide that the government is overreaching?

They’ve been in our bedrooms long enough, and it’s time to let the adults decide what is best for us, it’s time for queers to decide what’s best for us.

But most importantly, it’s time for the government to simply enable us to use poppers safely by reversing any bans and regulating its production and use.

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3 responses to “‘It’s a war on bottoms’: poppers may soon be banned in Australia pending a TGA decision”

  1. I do not use poppers and have tried them maybe twice or thrice in my lifetime and found the substance inadequate (it negatively affects the hard on, decreases sexual excitement and causes problems with breathing for me), but I would never ever ban them. Because I am against states even existing, let alone regulating access to anything people want to have for their own use.

    Come to think of it, the only thing I would ever ban are firearms, including the states’ own military and police forces.

  2. Yes I think we need to see the evidence- I think that is fair enough. However it is not an inocculous drug.
    For those on viagra the combination can cause life threatening hypotension
    There are case reports of eye damage and anemia. These are of concern in some subgroups of people ie those with diabetes. Anaemia can delay the diagnosis of diabetes which may therefore delay treatment. Eye damage may be additive to that already experience in diabetes ie retinopathy. The TGA need a higher level of evidence these days (including studies to support its safety) – which is not just occurring in amyl but other drugs. Who would pay for this safety data to be produced when all the manufacturers care about is sales, not safety per say.