You may have read about poppers lately. Once again there are rumblings about having those, to date, legal little brown bottles of euphoric amyl nitrate (or nitrite) banned, rumblings that have been intermittent since the mid-Eighties when, for a period, the drug and its derivatives of butyl and isobutyl were briefly thought either to cause Aids or help cause Aids. It was a link subsequently declared unproved, then paranoid, then false, but the melody lingers on, thanks to the hysterical insistence of marginal organisations such as Positively Healthy - the sect who still believe the HIV virus to be "harmless" - and pundits like ex-Sunday Times headbanger Neville Hodgkinson, on "obvious" cause and effect.

Nothing is obvious except biased ideological axe-grinding, though it was with Positively Healthy's assistance that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society recently brought a successful prosecution under the Medicines Act against a gay sex shop, for the first time putting the status of poppers in dispute. As Steve Lutener, head of the Inspectorate and Enforcement Division of the RPS, puts it: "It is an important test case."

Important and ultimately doomed. Whatever poppers' unstable status in law, their central place as the urban gay man's buzz of choice remains fixed and immutable (probably). One might go so far as to suggest that if Positively Healthy did produce irrefutable evidence that such bold brand names as Locker Room, Ram, and Rock Hard did ravage the immune system (and it is difficult to argue that poppers, like cigarettes and booze, are the immune system's best friend, no matter Positively Healthy's agenda) that many homosexual men would continue to snort their pounds 4 purchases come Saturday night, so totally intertwined are poppers with This Our Life.

Why? Many reasons.

There's the sex, of course. It's fabled; instantly relaxed, a state way beyond the sullen reality of sometime nausea, thumping headache and occasional unconsciousness, nose stinging smartly from inhaled overindulgence or accidental spillage. Big truth: the abrupt abandonment of inhibition merely makes sex easier, not better, though no one would deny that poppers' brief, blunt exhilaration and anonymous gay sex are natural partners.

However, poppers' reputation as an aphrodisiac, and their relative cheapness, only partly account for enduring popularity. Drug fashions come and go, and still poppers rule, OK. True, different groups - students, ravers, supposedly 15 per cent of teenagers - have adopted amyl nitrate, but none accord poppers the paramount position gay culture does. None of them quite manages the equivalent of the gay man's "poppers moment". Watch me: you anticipate the coming of a favourite chorus or thundering bass line. There it builds, builds, hold it, hold it ... Now. Just before it hits you remove the bottle from a hip pocket, press a finger to one nostril and sniff with the other. The music and instant rush of blood to the brain fuse into brief, obliterating, dislocated joy.

Sure, anyone can do this. But in other hands - and in other heads - it would lack ritual, a sense of history, the hum of resonance. It would be an individual action, not a communal gesture, like the patented passing around of the poppers bottle itself on request, and absolutely no previous acquaintance. "Can I borrow your poppers?" is the second most common gay club line after "You've been a naughty boy - go to my room". And it is a request inevitably granted, not just because the rules demand it, but - this is a suspicion, not a fact - because there's an implicit acknowledgement that this is one of those few times gay men can smile at one another, share, show some warmth, without asking anything back. Which may explain why poppers are quasi-routinely used in the bedroom, but seldom serve as actual sexual overture or pick-up bait - curious though none the less true, since poppers and the very notion of "gay", not coincidentally, each came out around the same period in the mid-Seventies, when the product, in happy yellow and sexy red plastic wrappers, then symbolised utter visibility, an antidote to any leftover repression, fear, angst, a new order of ceaseless pleasure.

Nowadays that packaged promise of release has mostly evaporated, the way poppers instantly will if smashed on a stone floor. Poppers are too ubiquitous, too taken for granted, as common as a handshake in certain quarters, though one would expect consumption this obviously wholesale - if Positively Healthy did have the inside track - to have resulted in hundreds of thousands more Aids cases than reported (not to mention the figures that should be now emerging from the aforementioned heterosexual groups). But sensational headlines have the advantage over the everyday and there isn't much mileage in detailing the industrial stench, or how poppers have to be kept refrigerated and capped, otherwise they'll go off like that, or in explaining that they ought to be left a good inch from the snout, otherwise the risk of circle burns around the nostrils is unflatteringly run, or how irritating it is when the top goes missing. So it is deliciously but dumbly ironic that stale old poppers (simply leave them open overnight) could recapture their past outlaw swagger, be considered as more forbidden even than alco-pop, through the spectacularly redundant tactic of forcing them underground.

Let's, for a change, be straight: demanding that popper queens give up amyl nitrate is akin to telling Rastas to bid farewell to ganja - a waste of breath that would be better employed inhaling in short, measured bursts. Which has nothing to do with addiction, and everything to do with allowing adults already wearily well versed in the theoretical right to choose, the actual right to choose what - and indeed, who - goes into their bodiesn