ACMD review of alkyl nitrites (‘poppers’)

Document type
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
Date of publication
16 March 2016
Substance Misuse
Social welfare
Material type

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This report assesses the harms and psychoactivity of alkyl nitrites.  Alkyl nitrites, ‘poppers’, have been widely used as recreational drugs since the 1970s. Poppers are sold as liquids that produce a vapour that can be inhaled. The report outlines the physiological effects of poppers and considers whether they are psychoactive in the context of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.  The ACMD’s consensus view is that a psychoactive substance has a direct action on the brain and that substances having peripheral effects, such as those caused by alkyl nitrites, do not directly stimulate or depress the central nervous system. Therefore poppers do not fall within the scope of the current definition of a psychoactive substance.  The report then examines the harms associated with poppers. It concludes that the opinion given in their 2011 report remains valid; that is, that their misuse is not seen to be capable of having ‘harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem’ and that they are therefore not subject to the controls in the Misuse of Drugs Act. There are, however, some risks of physiological harm and these should be monitored.

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