A month after Health Canada issued a warning about alkyl nitrate products – commonly known as poppers – the department has cracked down on sales nationwide, effectively pushing the market underground.
 
Health Canada says that alkyl nitrates are classified as a drug under the Food and Drug Act and cannot be sold for human consumption without a licence. Poppers are inhaled as a narcotic to increase sexual pleasure but are often marketed as leather cleaners or room deodorizers. But the department says it is not aware of any non-recreational use.
 
“A serious complaint was made to the department in February 2013 concerning a 'poppers' product on the Canadian market, which sparked the initiation of a Health Canada health-risk assessment,” says Sean Upton, a spokesperson for Health Canada.
 
The department has already issued recall and stop-sale notices for Rush, Rochefort and Amsterdam Special, as well as other brands containing alkyl nitrates. The agency issued public alerts after halting sales of the products at the Saints N Sinners store in Calgary and Adult Temptations in Whitehorse.
 
The department has also issued stop-sale and recall notices to distributors, including Lockerroom Marketing in Delta, BC; SD Variations in Laval, Quebec; and Discount DVD Depot in Mississauga. It is also working with the Canada Border Services Agency to block imports of alkyl nitrates.
 
Upton says that Health Canada has taken action to block sales of poppers in Canada in the past when it’s been made aware of the products on the market. He says the department will continue to block sales of alkyl nitrates as it is made aware of new outlets for them.
 
“If Health Canada identifies or is made aware of poppers being sold by additional retailers or via the internet, Health Canada will take appropriate action to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” he says.
 
Although poppers are not considered a narcotic in Canada, and possession of alkyl nitrates is not illegal, they are considered a drug and their sale is regulated by the Food and Drug Act. Unauthorized sales of the drug can be punished with jail terms of up to three years and fines of up to $5,000.
 
The agency says its concerns include the potential for overdose or misuse, since it is difficult to control how much is inhaled, and swallowing alkyl nitrates can be fatal. Poppers can also cause low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, especially when used with erectile-dysfunction drugs or over a long period. Other side effects include liver and kidney damage and potential complications for pregnant women.
 
The crackdown comes shortly before Pride festivities kick off across Canada. Stores in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village are no longer selling the products openly, although at least one is doing so under the table.
 
A sales associate at the Stag Shop on Church Street says lots of customers have been asking about poppers, which have been off the shelves for two weeks.
 
Calls to Priape's and Stag Shop’s head offices were not returned before press time.
 

Health Canada’s investigation at Saints N Sinners also led the department to issue notices about ExtenZe, an unauthorized male enhancement drug that contains ingredients that require a prescription and can cause medical complications, and Stiff Nights and Stiff 4 Hours, unauthorized male sexual stimulants that contain prescription erectile-dysfunction drugs. All three products have been removed from the store’s shelves.

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