A policy analysis by the International Journal of Drug Policy has found Medsafe’s decision to ban the sale of alkyl nitrites (poppers) in NZ lacked evidence, failed to provide alternative options, and increased harm to men who have sex with men.

In 2020, New Zealand made a significant decision regarding the availability of poppers, a commonly used drug among men who have sex with men (msm) to enhance sexual comfort. The move, which restricted access to poppers through prescription-only regulations, sparked intense debates and drew opposition from advocacy groups and users alike. Poppers were only available to be imported from international websites with a doctor’s certificate. Critics argued that there was a lack of evidence indicating any harm associated with popper use, making the decision unnecessary.

To shed light on the rationale behind Medsafe’s decision, the International Journal of Drug Policy conducted a thorough examination of the events leading up to the regulatory change (published on Tuesday).


Their findings unveiled the issue was brought to the forefront primarily due to scheduling decisions made in Australia, rather than based on specific evidence of harm within New Zealand. Moreover, the study concludes that no alternative options were adequately considered or presented during the decision-making process.

While the intention behind restricting access to poppers was to ensure safer usage, the researchers argue that this shift in accessibility may have inadvertently increased harm for men who have sex with men. Poppers have long been relied upon to enhance sexual experiences and increase comfort for recipients of anal sex. By limiting access and making them available only through prescription, a barrier was imposed, leading to unintended negative consequences.

Express has reached out to Medsafe for comment.

This ongoing conversation around poppers and their regulation serve as a reminder of the importance of evidence-based decision-making, inclusivity, and a nuanced understanding of the diverse communities impacted by such measures.