[Drummer cover 5 in.

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”.]

Drummer Forum:


    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 & AIDS, 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 immune system.

        “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.” (Emphasis ours.)

    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 hazard.”
    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 implications.”

    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.
    Here's more:

        “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 book:

Death Rush: Poppers &
AIDS, John Lauritsen and
Hank Wilson, Pagan Press,
New York 1986.

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