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Poppers, Legal Highs & the Home Affairs Select Committee

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Poppers, Legal Highs & the Home Affairs Select Committee

Post by Doug D on 04.09.16 21:07

Just spent a fascinating couple of hours investigating ‘poppers’ and the ‘legal highs’ ban legislation and there is so much there I could write a thesis on it!

It is to be noted that the original objections to ‘poppers’ being included came through the Home Affairs Select Committee, but I suppose this is only to be expected, as most of their work would be on behalf of the Home Office.

Not sure how 'conflict of interest' applies to an acknowledged user though.

..............................

Back in October 2011 a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs came up with this:

Consideration of the Novel Psychoactive Substances (‘Legal Highs’)

Amyl nitrite is an active ingredient in licensed medicines, mainly for the treatment of cyanide poisoning. This is normally in the metallurgical industry where cyanide is used in activities involving gold, but there are a few other circumstances where the product might be required. Any unlicensed product containing amyl nitrite is likely to fall within the definition of a medicinal product and, because it is unlicensed, be in breach of medicines regulations and therefore can be dealt with by MHRA. It is very unlikely that any ‟poppers‟ on the UK market contain amyl nitrite.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/119139/acmdnps2011.pdf


A proposed amendment to the new 'legal highs' bill on 27 October 2015 was suggested & seemingly rejected:
 
Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP):  I beg to move amendment 56, in schedule 1, page 39, line 23, at end insert— 

“Miscellaneous
11 —alkyl nitrates”
This amendment seeks to implement a recommendation by the Home Affairs Select Committee that “poppers” should not be banned.

I will try to be succinct. We felt it was important to table this probing amendment following the evidence gathered by the Home Affairs Committee and published in its report last Friday. I am not looking to press the amendment to a vote, but it is something that should be taken into consideration as we move towards Report.
 
The Home Affairs Committee received evidence from the National AIDS Trust and the Gay Men’s Health Collective that seemed to suggest that there was no medical evidence to suggest that poppers are in any way harmful. I am not an expert so I am open to contrary arguments. In this, as in so many areas of the Bill, the amendment is trying to avoid the unintended consequences of action or inaction that might be taken.

In Jan 2016 a proposed amendment to the new bill failed to get through Parliament:

Schedule 1
Exempted substances
Amendment proposed: 5, page 41, line 12, at end insert—
“Miscellaneous
8 Alkyl nitrites”—
(Lyn Brown.)
This would exempt “poppers” from the Bill, as recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
 
The House divided:
Ayes 228, Noes 309.
 
The 'legal highs' bill was then voted through and reported in The Guardian as follows:
 
Poppers should not come under legal highs ban, say top advisers
 
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advises Theresa May that alkyl nitrites do not directly affect the brain
 
Alan Travis Home affairs editor. Wednesday 16 March 2016 17.45 GMT
 
Snipped:
 
Ministers have also put in train a separate process to consider whether poppers should be exempted from the blanket ban on legal highs or new psychoactive substances. The Medical and Health Regulatory Authority has been asked to gather evidence for an independent assessor to report to the home secretary and health secretary who will make a final decision.
This process is not expected to be completed before the summer recess but could still lead to poppers being exempted from the ban if the home secretary rejects her official drug advisers’ recommendations.
 
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/16/poppers-should-not-come-under-legal-highs-ban-say-top-advisers
 
This is the same day that a letter came through from ACMD with the following:
 
ACMD 16th March 2016

Conclusion on psychoactivity

2.8.In the ACMD’s view, alkyl nitrites (“poppers”) do not fall within the scope of the current definition of a “psychoactive substance” in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

2.9. Consequently, the ACMD does not see a need for an exemption under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/508179/Poppersadvice.pdf

so this is clearly the advice headlined in the Guardian’s report.

Following on from
 
The Medical and Health Regulatory Authority has been asked to gather evidence for an independent assessor to report to the home secretary and health secretary who will make a final decision. This process is not expected to be completed before the summer recess’
 
less than one week later some bright spark at the Home Office has re-read the ACMD’s report, realized that as long as it’s not amyl nitrite (which would fall under the unlicenced medicines acts) there is no need for any exclusion, as it was suddenly no longer a “psychoactive substance” (although it had been in 2011).
 
So the Guardian is able to report:
 
Poppers escape ban on legal highs
 
Liquid chemical drug – alkyl nitrites – wins last-minute exclusion from law that comes into force next month
 
Alan Travis Home affairs editor. Tuesday 22 March 2016 14.40 GMT
 
Poppers will not be outlawed under the blanket ban of legal highs due to come into effect in Britain next month, Home Office ministers have confirmed.
 
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/22/poppers-alkyl-nitrites-drug-escapes-ban-on-legal-highs
 
Not a psychoactive substance, so no exemption needed.
 
Brilliant!
 
The decision to confirm the exclusion of poppers from the Psychoactive Substances Act, which will criminalise the trade in legal highs from April, was announced by a Home Office minister, Karen Bradley, on Tuesday the 22nd of March 2016.
 
She said she agreed with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that only substances that “directly stimulate or depress the central nervous system are psychoactive”, and should come within the blanket ban on the sale of legal highs.
 
Bradley told the ACMD: “Having given due consideration, the government agrees with your advice and interpretation of the definition. We do so in the understanding that ‘poppers’ have these unique indirect effects.
 
“Our understanding is that this approach does not have any further implications for the operation of the Act and that other substances that the Act intends to cover are not affected,” said Bradley, adding they remained confident the courts would uphold the psychoactivity of legal highs banned under the legislation.

http://www.sdf.org.uk/news-and-media/general-news/poppers-or-alkyl-nitrites-to-be-excluded-from-pyschoactive-substances-act/

I love this last paragraph though. What nonsense.

I just trust that any enforcement officers are fully aware of the difference between ‘amyl nitrite’ and ‘alkyl nitrite’ when they encounter any little brown bottles or capsules and similarly will have a good understanding of what is and what isn’t a ‘psychoactive substance’ and whether it has a ‘direct action’ or ‘peripheral effect on the brain’, next time they are in Holland & Barrett’s.

How can ‘laughing gas’ (nitrous oxide) be captured by this legislation?

The subjective experience of inhaling “poppers”

“The effects start soon after inhalation but only last for a few minutes. People experience a dizzying ‘rush’ as heartbeat quickens and blood rushes to the head. A pounding headache, dizziness, nausea, a slowed down sense of  time, a flushed face and neck and a feeling of light-headedness are commonly reported effects” (Drugwise, 2016)
The brain perceives a transient “rush” or “high” as an indirect effect caused by increased blood flow caused by the dilation of blood vessels in brain and periphery. The effects of “poppers” on blood vessels in the brain should be considered to be “peripheral” as these lie outside the “blood-brain barrier”.

As opposed to:

‘When someone inhales nitrous oxide, the gas rapidly dissolves into the bloodstream, and hits the brain within seconds. Effects vary between people and are rarely quite the same twice, but a rush of dizziness and euphoria is normal, and people often burst out laughing.’

Is this inside or outside of the ‘blood brain barrier’?

I'll have to ask the village 'bobby' next time I encounter him.


Unenforceable legislation at its absolute finest I reckon.


A good barrister and any number of medical experts and the prosecution would have no chance.

Doug D

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