The review below, was written by Robert Payne for Drummer
(an S&M magazine “for the macho male”). It appeared in
issue 98 (undated), which hit the newsstands in late 1986. This was the
last issue published by founder John H. Embry, who announced that,
after eleven years of publication, he had sold Drummer and two
other magazines to Desmodus Publications. In the very next issue of Drummer,
under new owners and a new editor, an article by “Dr.”
Bruce Voeller (who later died of “AIDS”) attacked all
criticisms of poppers as “unscientific”.]
DEVOTED TO THE
DRUMMER PHILOSOPHY. WHATEVER THAT MAY BE...
As with any other great happening. I can remember
the first time I was exposed to poppers. It was in someone's cramped
little apartment in the Hollywood environs and I was having so-so sex
with someone that I was beginning to wonder why I ever went home with.
And from his performance, he was probably wondering the very same
thing. All of a sudden he broke a capsule under my nose and said,
“Sniff this.” I could see myself hooked to some
sordid dope habit for life, shamelessly craving more and more and,
after a whiff of something that smelled like overripe socks, my
one-night host turned into a Rock Hudson lookalike and I floated away
on a cloud of short-term ecstasy. I wouldn't know the guy now if he was
sitting in my lap but I will never forget his part in my introduction
to the seamy world of erotic drugs. In a very short time I was going to
the little cut-rate drug store on Hollywood Boulevard and paying $3.75
for a box of yellow capsules, nylon-net wrapped. It was amyl nitrate
and I experienced many a happy climax under its influence.
Later on, the federal government noticed amyl's
surge of popularity and made druggists dispense the stuff only with
prescription. Some of us with the right kind of connections had little
trouble continuing to get the wonderful little capsules and the rest of
us had to settle for a commercial version in the liquid form, still
called “poppers” but was now a version of butyl nitrite,
which required no prescription since its manufacturers had convinced
themselves and the Feds the little bottles were being sold as
“Room Odorizers” — in spite of the fact that it
smelled like a mixture of Clorox and dirty socks.
These mixtures were given brand names like
BOLT and RUSH after the two pioneers in the field finished fighting
over the name LOCKER ROOM. Then HARDWARE and QUICKSILVER came out of
the midwest. Most of the gay publications were delighted to have a
share of all this advertising, which soon became four color in five
figures. In many of the heavier leather bars and shops one could get
unlabeled brown bottles of “real” amyl or at least a
bathtub version as well. The markup was horrendous both on these
products and the paraphernalia that proliferated for its use. Little
leather inhalers of spun aluminum on leather thongs were a proper part
of an evening's wardrobe. The inhalers looked like bullets and one
brand became popular with just that name.
Some of these companies, along with their offshoots,
continued to stay in business. Others, perhaps too full of their own
product, dropped by the wayside or were taken over by less frivolous
businessmen, both gay and otherwise.
Everybody knew that these products were not good for
them. Analyzed, some brands showed traces of chlorine and
God-knows-what-else mixed in with the alcohol base. The manufacturers
claimed their version was “purer” than competitors'.
“You don't get a headache with our products,” was a
favorite phrase. ln truth most of the manufacturing ended up being done
by a handful of “labs” who bottled the same stuff under any
brand name one wished. Wholesale cost was usually around a dollar, give
or take, depending on how well advertised the brand was.
Which just about brings us up to date. We all
realize that poppers are not good for us. But then neither is smoking
or drinking. And, of course, comparing a bottle of HARDWARE or RUSH
with some of the other recreational drugs that are proliferating the
scene makes the butyl nitrite look almost like a bottle of vitamins.
After all, how bad can it be for you?
Which brings us up to a little book just sent us for
review by Pagan Press in New York City. Its authors, John Lauritsen and
Hank Wilson, make quite a case against butyl nitrite. They have
certainly convinced me, and Drummer thought it was important enough to
commission me to get something more than a book review out to its
readers. The book's title is Death Rush, Poppers
and if its authors are only right in half their accusations against the
popper industry and its product, it would be enough to make us avoid
the stuff at any cost.
Without anybody's permission, I am going to quote
you a few lines from the book beyond its opening and closing lines,
which are the same — “Don't use poppers.”
“Poppers have become an accepted, even obligatory part of the gay
male lifestyle. With regular use they become a sexual crutch, and many
gay men are incapable of having sex, even masturbation, without the aid
of poppers. Since poppers have become necessary for them to function
sexually, giving them up ... would seem like giving up sex itself....
“Five different studies found that exposure to amyl or isobutyl
nitrite, either through injection or inhalation, caused immunological
deficiency in mice. One of those studies further found that the mice
exposed to nitrite vapors suffered gross pathological lung damage,
weight loss, and most significantly, reversed T-cell ratios.... In a
sixth study, mice exposed to low dosages of isobutyl nitrite vapors
developed methemoglobinemia and thymic atrophy.... Poppers are known to
cause methemoglobinemia in humans. (Methemoglobinemia is a form of
anemia where the blood turns brown and where the oxygen supply to
critical organs is reduced.) ... Autopsies of AIDS victims show the
thymus gland to be destroyed in 100% of the cases. No thymus gland, no
“A seventh mice study could not be carried through to completion.
All of the mice died.”
However the point that I find most important in the
book is this:
“The government's insistence that the 'HTLV-III' virus is the
cause for AIDS, sole and sufficient, has stifled independent research
and thinking, and has misled people as to the risk factors for AIDS.
Intravenous drug users have not been told to quit using drugs, only
that they must stop 'sharing needles'. (Actually, there is no evidence
that all, or even most, of the IV drug users with AIDS did 'share
needles'.) Gay men have been told that they must restrict their
sexual activities, but not that they ought to stop using cocaine,
heroin, quaaludes, amphetamines, ethyl chloride, PCP, marijuana, LSD,
barbiturates, poppers and the other 'recreational drugs' (a sick
euphemism) that are prominent in the lifestyle of many.
“The government's unreasoning dogmatism is well expressed in
Robert Gallo's statement: ‘If you.get run over by a truck, you
don't need cofactors.’ The ‘AIDS virus’ is hardly
a truck, and it may be the ‘co-factors’ that cause AIDS.”
The authors go on to indict those who manufacture,
sell and advertise these dubious products.
According to the book, Dr. James Curran, assistant
director of the Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, was
infuriated that Joseph F. Miller, of Great Lakes Products, Inc., the
nation's largest manufacturer of nitrite-based odorants, said in a
press release, that his company is “greatly relieved to know that
recent government studies clearly show that such misuse poses no health
Dr. Curran sent an angry letter to Miller, with a
copy to the Advocate (which never printed it). In part:
“Other health hazards from misuse of these drugs have been
documented. Your press release and advertisements in the Advocate are
misleading and misrepresent the CDC findings and their
Dr. Sue F. Watson sent a letter to Robert McQueen,
Editor of the Advocate, in which she stated:
“Our studies show that amyl nitrite strongly suppresses the
segment of the immune system (cellular immunity) which normally
protects individuals against Kaposi's sarcoma, pneumocystis pneumonia,
herpes virus, Candida, amebiasis and a variety of other opportunistic
infections. The upshot of this research is that persons using nitrite
inhalants may be at risk for development of AIDS. Publication of this
letter in the Advocate will serve to alert the community to the health
risks of using amyl nitrite. I hope you will see fit to include this
information in the news section of the Advocate.”
After receiving no response, Dr. Watson telephoned
editor. McQueen. She was told, “We're not interested.”
“ln 1978, the leading poppers manufacturer, W. Jay Freezer,
financed a $200,000 study which concluded that butyl nitrite products
were safe ‘when used for odorizing purposes’. On the basis
of this impudently irrelevant study, the California Department of
Health permitted poppers to be sold, free of any regulation, testing or
control, provided only that the products be advertised as ‘room
odorizers or incense’.”
Which could be tantamount to would-be distributors
of cocaine labeling their packaged product as dance floor wax.
W. Jay Freezer died of complications due to AIDS on
March 27, 1985. He was preceded by New York's “Poppers
Bill,” the first poppers manufacturer to die of AIDS.
“A recent study compared two groups of gay men who were antibody
positive to the HTLV-IlI virus, people who were clinically sick with
AIDS and people who were not sick. Usage of the nitrite inhalants
proved to be one of the most important risk factors for developing AIDS
and especially Kaposi's sarcoma. The heavier the popper usage, the
greater the risk....
“Finally, there is the crucial point that for five years AIDS,
unlike a truly communicable disease, has remained compartmentalized.
Gay men accounted for three-quarters of the nation's AIDS cases five
years ago and account for the same proportion now in 1986. Poppers are
used by gay men. They are used by very, very few straight men and by
virtually no women at all.”
I finished the book and went around the house,
seeking out anything with a RUSH, RAM, THUNDERBOLT; LOCKER ROOM
HARDWARE, DOUBLE EAGLE, CLIMAX, QUICKSILVER, HEAD or CRYPT TONIGHT
label and tossed them into the garbage. Room odorizers indeed!
Lauritsen and Wilson's book has me so worked up I even look askance at
cans of RENUZIT and GLADE.
I'll end this article the same way they ended their
DO NOT USE POPPERS.
Hank Wilson, Pagan Press,
New York 1986.
Back to Poppers page.