Poppers: tolerated but not legalized

Poppers are ranked as the second most used drug in France, just after cannabis. Poppers were used in French hospitals before becoming used as a recreational drug until 1950’s. Later on, toxicologists warned public opinion about poppers potential adverse effects despite very few accidents. The uncertainty about these effects explain poppers’ changing legislation: the sale of poppers at pharmacies was banned in 2007, allowed in 2009, banned again in 2011 and allowed again in 2013

In 2011, a study demonstrated that poppers can cause loss of vision. And yet, the 2013 decision given by French court said there was no scientific evidence which showed that poppers could lead to dependence. SNEG (an organisation dedicated to the interests of companies that sell products to the gay community) and the main distributor Men’s prosecuted the French state twice. SNEG’s reason was the fact gay people could use other drugs with worse effects. Some journalists claim the prohibition of poppers would reduce the profits of companies which sell poppers to the gay community.

Poppers have an odd place in the French drug landscape: it is not clearly illegal (they can be found in a pharmacy) and it is not officially classified as a drug yet. According to OFDT study (French Drug Observatory), 3 % of 18-25 year old people have already taken poppers and the percentages doubled between 2003 and 2011 among 17 year olds (from 4,5% to 9%). The product can be easily found and it’s affordable (between £6 and £10 for a bottle). The police don’t often take people in for questioning and seizures are very rare (30 bottles between 2003 and 2011).

The case of poppers demonstrates the fact that drugs could be tolerated without being legal. The number of poppers users has not decreased even during prohibition and the poppers market still represents several million euros. One can wonder why poppers are not targeted as much as cannabis and yet it could be more harmful (vision, asthma and so on). Obviously they aren’t in the same class: the cannabis market involves more people and it the market is figured at 2 billion euros/year. The reason could be poppers had been a medicine from the 19th century and is still considered as one. The fact it became becomes a recreational drug could be a taboo and authorities could feel uncomfortable with this and prefer to bury their heads in the sand. And yet, one day, French government should tell the truth: people use poppers more for fun than as a medicine.