Email signup

Legal Insider: Poppers and whippets — lesser-known substances that could put your clearance at risk

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq. 

One of the more common issues that arise for employees, applicants, and contractors who have or are applying for a security clearance is the issue of illegal drug usage. However, recently, there has been an uptick in agencies paying attention to employees, applicants, and contractors’ use of a less common substance, inhalants.

While many individuals pay attention to and understand their duty to report prior illegal drug use, many are unaware that there are other types of use, involving substances that are not considered illegal or covered by the Controlled Substances Act, that may impact the security clearance process.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards agencies considering misuse of substances, even if the substance is not technically illegal. These agencies have suggested that such use may need to be disclosed on the Standard Form 86 and have indicated that the use may create a basis for someone being denied a security clearance.

What are inhalants, you may ask? This question is the starting point for why this area of focus by agencies is complicated and difficult to navigate. The word actually covers a variety of substances that are consumed, as the name suggests, by inhaling. There is not necessarily a finite or specific list of what substances qualify as inhalants from agencies’ perspectives. However, a starting point for the conversation would be the security questionnaire itself, currently referred to as the Standard Form 86.

The Standard Form 86 contains a section where individuals are asked to disclose their prior involvement with various substances. Under the list of substances, there is a category for inhalants where only two examples are provided: toluene and amyl nitrate.

Toluene is the substance most often associated with paint thinners. Amyl nitrate, a controlled substance requiring a prescription, was previously an ingredient in “poppers” but has not been used in that manner since 1988. However, neither of these two substances are generally what is being consumed when people are engaging in the use of inhalants.

Most people using inhalants recreationally are using “poppers” or “whippets”. Poppers is a slang term that refers to the chemical class called alkyl nitrites that are inhaled. While similar in sound to amyl nitrates, the substance listed on the Standard Form 86, this is a distinct chemical compound. Whippets refers to nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas). The name is in reference to whipped cream canisters, which contain little chargers that are filled with nitrous oxide. Both substances can be purchased from retail establishments, do not include the substances mentioned on the Standard Form 86, and are generally not considered to be illegal.

However, there are some laws in place regulating the production and sale of ingredients in some inhalants. For example, it is lawful to manufacture and sell products made with Isobutyl (including alkyl nitrites or “poppers”) for commercial purposes but such production and sale is prohibited for human consumption. This is why you may see “poppers” or “whippets” being sold as products labeled for other uses such as whipped cream canisters, room deodorizers, leather polish, or nail polish remover, to name a few. However, the laws currently in place do not relate to the person who may end up using the substance.

Given the gray area around the substances, individuals who have engaged in such use and who hold a security clearance or intend to apply for a security clearance should seek legal advice on whether their specific use should be reported and how such use may impact their clearance process.

Our law firm advises government contractors and federal employees in the security clearance process. We can be contacted at or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.

Recent Stories

Good Friday evening, Fairfax County. Let’s take a look back at today’s stories and a look forward to tomorrow’s event calendar. 🕗 News recap The following articles were published earlier…

Reston Association is seeking candidates for its 2024 Board of Directors’ election. Four seats are open for the election, which will take place in March. Specifically, two at-large director seats…

Zombies, pirates and other virtual characters are about to be unleashed on Tysons, just in time for Christmas. Sandbox VR will launch its new virtual reality gaming experience at 1656…

Do the holidays have you stressed and busy? Worry not about what to wear as Live Fairfax has the Style Survival Guide for this season!

Art House 7 warmly welcomes you to our upcoming Fall 2 session of classes starting on October 30th. We’re thrilled to offer a diverse range of mediums and flexible class lengths, catering to a wide age range, starting from as young as 2, and, of course, providing a multitude of engaging options for adults!

Our classes cover an exciting spectrum of creative mediums, including fiber arts such as knitting, modern embroidery, crochet, and sewing. We also offer classes in ceramics on the wheel, drawing, watercolor, gouache, oil, acrylic, still-life painting, and captivating Japanese Suminagashi and printmaking. One of the highlights of this session is the highly anticipated 5-week “Painting the Portrait and Figure” workshop, led by the renowned local artist, Danni Dawson.

For our younger artists, we have specially designed classes like “Art Exploration through Impressionism” for students in kindergarten through 5th grade, an engaging “Art Together” parent-child class designed for 2–4-year-olds, and a “Teen Taught Art Club” tailored for kindergarteners through 4th graders.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Winter Wonderland Fundraiser

Proceeds benefit Fellowship Square, improving the lives of 800+ older adults with very limited income and resources by providing affordable housing and supportive services.

Experience a festive holiday fundraiser complete with savory wines & craft beers, scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, exciting


Subscribe to our mailing list