1 min

Nitrites in Canada

Though the recreational use of poppers in Canada has echoed the use in the US, their legal history is quite different here.

In Canada, amyl nitrite has never been legally available over the counter. It’s always been a prescription medication and it remains so – just barely. Only one company makes it and then only in one form, for only one purpose.

Shire Pharmaceuticals Group, a company specializing in less popular medications, sells amyl nitrite in small glass vials. It’s for treatment of cyanide poisoning and it’s not a particularly hot commodity.

“Sales have declined so much so that we have considerable trouble keeping the product on the market,” says product manager Anne Myerson.

Michael LeBelle, a senior science advisor with Health Canada, says that amyl nitrite used to be commonly prescribed as a vessel dilator, but it’s been gradually replaced by newer medications with fewer side effects and other problems.

“Nitrites are old drugs. They’re easy to make, but they’re highly volatile and highly flammable,” LeBelle says.

LeBelle remembers that when poppers were legal in the US, there was an underground market in Canada.

“It was being sold as an inhalant,” he says. “I know there was some cross border traffic and there were some seizures. I know amyl nitrites were coming into Canada at that time [the late ’70s and the early ’80s].”

Tony Halisky, a compliance officer for Health Canada, says there has been no enforcement action on amyl nitrites in at least two years.

“We’re not likely to get complaints about it. It seems to be a self-contained problem. There are no victims,” says Halisky.