Are Poppers Legal?

What a question. Luckily for us (and for you), the simple answer for a lot of the world is: yes. 

If you want a bit more meat on your answer then it gets a bit more long winded. Poppers have been around for well over a century now. While we won’t get into the ancient history and lore of the creation of poppers here, it is worth knowing that one of their original purposes was to help treat angina. We’ve obviously moved past that use now and onto more modern pursuits, but that shift has led to a number of legal challenges across the globe, especially in the past decade. 

At this point it gets a bit more complicated per country, so we’re going to have to break that down a bit. Most countries allow poppers in some shape or form. Some have had interesting and even unexpected stories on their path of embracing poppers, while others look upon some formulas more fondly than others. 

Are poppers legal in the UK?

Are poppers legal: yes
Any special rules: No

Let's start with our home country of the UK, which incidentally is one of the more interesting cases of how a country came to embrace poppers. 

Back in 2016 the UK was awash with substances known as ‘legal highs’. Quite often these substances were very closely related to those normally classed as illegal, but with a slight change in their molecular structure in order to get around legal bans. The legal system struggled to keep up. As a response, the Conservative government of the UK drafted the Psychoactive Substances Act. 

Specifically, this was a bill that looked at banning anything that “affects the person’s mental function or emotional state” through changes to the nervous system. Instead of banning individual substances, as before, this would now act as a blanket ban. 

Special exceptions were made for the substances you would expect. Coffee, tobacco, alcohol and medical products were all safe, but the new bill specifically put poppers uk wide at risk

Attempts were made to save UK poppers. Andy Burnham, the then Shadow Home Secretary, added an amendment to the bill which would exclude poppers from the ban. Unfortunately the bill was voted down 309 to 228. 

To the rescue came an unlikely hero, Tory MP Crispin Blunt. Blunt, who was first elected as an MP in 1997, initially had a voting record which sided against gay rights. In 1998 for instance, he voted against lowering the age of consent for homosexual couples. This was until he publicly came out in 2010, and has since been one of the strongest supporters of progressive LGBTQ+ legislation in The Commons. 
Following the downvote of the bill, Blunt stood up in the House of Commons and publicly denounced the ban as foolish. 

“There are some times, Madam Deputy Speaker, when something is proposed which becomes personal to you and you realise that the government is about to do something fantastically stupid and I think in those circumstances one has a duty to speak up. 

“I use poppers. I out myself as a poppers user. And would be directly affected by this legislation.” 

A member of their own party speaking against the ban was seemingly the tipping point. Following further consultation, the Home Office acknowledged the role that poppers often played in enabling anal sex for queer men, and an exemption in the substances act was soon made for poppers. Hurrah. 

Are poppers legal in Australia?

Are poppers legal: Mixed

Any special rules: Isopropyl nitrite is banned, all other poppers beside amyl nitrite require a prescription

Australia’s journey with poppers shares a similar start with their Commonwealth cousins in the UK, but the end result is rather drastically different. Prior to 2018 poppers roamed free throughout Australian Bush, so to speak. This is before the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) proposed a similar ban on Poppers to that proposed in the UK in 2016.

This ban specifically aimed to group poppers in a category of equal danger to heroin. As any self respecting queer will tell you, that’s pretty crazy. And that’s about the same response the government received from all angles. Even a former federal police chief made his distaste for the bill known, claiming every other substance ban had failed, and questioned what evidence there was that a ban on poppers would be any different. 

Instead of an outright ban the TGA opted for regulation. All things considered, perhaps the best outcome Australia could hope for. 

Isopropyl nitrite poppers were outright banned, but many other alkyl nitrites were approved for sale in Australia with a prescription. If you think this is an odd decision, you’re not the only one. It has been repeatedly pointed out that this potentially harms those in the closet. Add to this that GPs are not always as clued up on queer health issues as we might like and may refuse to prescribe poppers.

Seemingly in response to this, the TGA ‘downgraded’ amyl nitrite poppers specifically to not require a prescription. The catch? They still need to be bought through a pharmacy. Again, not the ideal place to buy poppers. 

As if to draw out this increasingly complex bit of legislation even further, there are not any actual poppers approved by the TGA for sale in these pharmacies in Australia. This would be a long and exceptionally expensive process to go through. 

So legally, that leaves Australians with one option: importation. Amyl nitrite poppers can be ordered into the country from abroad. For other formulas requiring a prescription? Australia’s personal importation scheme. Under the scheme Australians with a prescription can import three-months worth of poppers into the country. What exactly is three-months worth of poppers I hear you ask? Your guess is as good as ours, as the government has, perhaps expectedly, not been clear on this. 

Are poppers legal in America?

Are poppers legal: Yes
Any special rules: No

America is pretty simple. Unlike England and Australia, with their fairly complicated backstories, America hasn’t really had any legal issues or challenges to poppers. Poppers in America are legal. There we go, short and sweet.

Are poppers legal in Japan? 

Are poppers legal: No
Any special rules: No

Back in the early 2000’s Japan began cracking down on a number of substances, and unfortunately poppers were caught in the crossfires. Today, Japan has some of the strongest restrictions and punishments for popper ownership. 

As a result, a small study found that between 2013 and 2019, popper usage between men, which was already at a very low rate, had halved.


And that’s it for now. If you're planning to travel, we've also done some investigating on if you can take poppers onto a plane, which you might find useful. We’ll also be periodically updating this page with the background for other countries, so keep an eye out!