The UK’s notoriously anti-LGBT home secretary Priti Patel is planning to fully decriminalise the sale of poppers.

Not usually known for liberal stances on anything, Patel confirmed on Wednesday that she is “minded” to explicitly exempt poppers from laws banning former ‘legal highs’.

Alkyl nitrites, popularly known as poppers, are sold in the UK as room odourisers but are commonly inhaled recreationally. The drugs are particularly popular among gay men, both as a party high and because they relax the anal sphincter muscles for anal sex.

Plans to ban poppers were put forward in 2016 by then-home secretary Theresa May as part of a crackdown on ‘legal high’ drugs, but the drugs were confirmed to be exempt from the law after a revolt from gay Tory MPs.

At the time, the technical exemption was made on the basis that the drugs only have an “indirect” psychoactive effect – but subsequent legal rulings have cast doubt over whether they are sufficiently cleared from impact by the legislation.

Priti Patel is ‘minded to explicitly exempt’ poppers from blanket drugs ban

On Wednesday, Patel requested advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on carving out a more explicit exemption from drug laws for poppers, in a letter setting out “the Government’s priorities for the ACMD work programme commissioned for the next three years.”

In the letter, first reported by the BBC, the lifelong opponent of LGBT+ rights noted the use of drugs “by homosexual men as an aid to sex.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

She wrote: “The lawfulness of the supply of poppers is [currently] uncertain. I am minded to remove this uncertainty by explicitly exempting poppers from the 2016 Act.

“I would seek the ACMD’s advice on an exemption. My officials will work with you to provide more detail on the proposed wording of an exemption as you consider the issue.”

The issue is listed as the lowest priority of those outlined, which also includes a request for an investigation into cocaine use by young men, and “advice and analysis of trends in drug trafficking on the dark net”.

Poppers are not addictive, but ‘excessive’ use can have long-term problems

A 2019 study of poppers use in Australia concluded that there is little evidence to suggest they are in any way addictive or detrimental to mental health.

The research by the University of Technology in Sydney, which involved 800 gay and bisexual men, found that the drug does not show “typical dependency characteristics, including health, social, legal and financial problems, and no correlation between popper use and mental health or psychological stress.”

Although poppers may not be addictive, they are not without some long-term health risks and should be used sparingly.

Poppers increase blood pressure which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. If inhaled excessively, the chances of a drop in blood pressure and fainting are higher, along with vomiting and struggling to breathe. Studies have also indicated that they could cause other lasting damage to your eyesight, sexual performance and immune system.