Gay Community Calls on Government to End Poppers Ban in Canada

Poppers have been used throughout history amongst gay men and the ban in Canada is an insult to the gay community.

News Brian Webb

This article was published on July 29th, 2021

Across Canada, the gay community is rallying together, advocating, educating, signing a petition to have the government put an end on the ban of poppers. The pressure comes during Pride season and gay men across Canada are demanding the legalization of poppers. 

Poppers are made of alkyl nitrite. Since 2013, when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government enacted the ban on poppers, it has been illegal to distribute poppers in Canada. The law is widely based on ignorance, as poppers play a significant role in LGBT history. From a physiological aspect, this law is nonsense too. Poppers, when used safely, increase sexual pleasure, and reduce pain. They do this while creating a euphoric state of being. 

Poppers: sexual stimulation in a bottle

“The ban’s sole accomplishment is an increased health risk to sexual minority communities by cutting them off from a safe and regulated supply of this otherwise benign substance,” says Matt Troy, Director of Vancouver Art and Leisure and local activist. “We have to call out discrimination where we see it and the poppers ban is government sanctioned homophobia.”

Ironically, poppers were created during one of the most sexually repressive periods of modern history – the Victorian era. Initially, doctors used them as relief for patients suffering from angina. But, the gay community quickly realized the effects and benefits, and they began using them during sex.

With some tweaks to the formula, poppers were sold at disco and club scenes. Their popularity came from their ability to relax people, both physically and mentally. Although not legally classified as a drug, poppers had a similar stigma.

The rise of the AIDS crisis also contributed to this negative perception. Scientists were trying to discover the cause of the disease. One of the first similarities in the victims was that many had used poppers. Eventually, this led to a widespread fear of poppers, and many HIV/AIDS activists called for them to be banned, which was based on misinformation. 

It was not until the early 2000s that they became more common and openly used. With the rise of circuit culture, they became a quick and easy way for people to relax and ease their inhibitions.  

“If poppers were regulated, they could have warning labels explaining how to use them safely and buyers could be sure of exactly what they were getting. Our research shows that most incidents of poppers related harm today come from unclear instructions and dubious sources—both easily solvable problems,” says CBRC Executive Director Jody Jollimore.

Some scientists have recently argued that poppers may help to prevent the transmission of HIV. They help prevent HIV because they release the sphincter muscle. Poppers cause your muscle to relax and relaxing your sphincter muscle reduces the risk of tearing. Tears increase the risk of HIV transmission by passing through blood and, in turn, from one person to another. 

The arguments around poppers have been around since the 1980s. In the 1990s, journalist John Lyttle questioned how the controversy was representative of gay men’s “right to choose what – and indeed who – goes into their bodies.” Although not on the same level, this is similar to the arguments presented by abortion activists.

Canada has a more bullish policy on poppers compared to the USA, France, Australia, and the UK, where poppers are all accessible. Beginning in 2013, the Canadian government’s ban on poppers is part of their attempts to control our bodies. Banning them is banning a crucial part of gay culture and history. It’s a form of institutionalized homophobia.

Like with any ban, banning poppers didn’t stop people from using them. Instead, this only led to popper use going further underground and less safe. Legalizing poppers would ensure that they become regulated and safer to use. By prohibiting the purchase and sell of poppers people look to obtain them through alternative methods. As with any substance, this leads to unsafe transactions and people using things that may or not be what they think. 

The Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) and their collaboration partners, including advocacy group, Vancouver Art and Leisure, is pushing an agenda to make poppers legal. Doing so will increase access to a vulnerable community. Instead of allowing the federal government to control our bodies, and in essence, our culture, we need to unite with the CBRC to work towards legalizing poppers. The rich cultural LGBT history that we have come to know is based on their existence, as you have seen. 

“The harms of poppers have been generally overstated, and the positive effects are legitimate,” says Len Tooley, Advancement & Evaluation Director at the CBRC. “There is a very little risk of dependency because they have no psychoactive effect. They are also an effective means of enabling safe and enjoyable anal sex by reducing pain and injury.”

It’s time to stand with CRBC because it is not just poppers the government is suppressing with the ban. By and large, this attacks our culture, our community, and our right to choose what we feel is best for us. 

For more information, to take the survey, or to sign the petition go to:

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