Nitrous oxide canisters: what is laughing gas used for, what are side effects, is it illegal to buy NOS in UK?

Laughing gas is the second most used drug in the UK for people aged between 16 and 24

The UK government is planning to ban the sale of laughing gas to the public as part of a wider crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove described the “scourge” of nitrous oxide as something which is turning public space into “drug taking arenas.”

Doctors in the UK are coming under increased strain following the rising levels of patients being admitted to hospital from laughing gas abuse.

Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital trust has claimed that there has been an “epidemic of young people” being admitted to hospital following the effects of using laughing gas on a recreational basis.

The number of patients being admitted to hospital are continuing to rise throughout the UK and there has been an increase of severe cases in the UK as a result of the super sized canisters that are being distributed.

But what has been said about the ban on laughing gas and what are the side effects of using it?

What has the UK government said?

The UK government has described the rise of laughing gas as a problem that they are determined to stamp out.

The prime minister Rishi Sunak is launching a series of hard hitting measures to clamp down on low-level crime, with plans for offenders slapped down with community orders to be cleaning up their own graffiti or vandalism within 48 hours.

Michael Gove spoke about the laughing gas ban during an interview on Sky News. He said: “I think any of us who have had the opportunity to walk through our parks in our major cities will have seen these little canisters, these silver canisters which are examples of people not only despoiling public spaces but also taking a drug which can have psychological and neurological affect and one that contributes to anti-social behaviour overall.”

What is nitrous oxide used for?

Nitrous oxide is used medically for sedation or pain relief, it is commonly used by dentists or doctors to calm a patient and reduce the symptoms of anxiety before undergoing a medical procedure.

Before a procedure takes place, the patient will need to give consent for the doctor to use nitrous oxide. Once permission is given a plastic mask is placed over the patient’s mask and laughing gas flows through the mouth.

Laughing gas canisters are often seen at festivals and parties (Getty Images)Laughing gas canisters are often seen at festivals and parties (Getty Images)
Laughing gas canisters are often seen at festivals and parties (Getty Images)

The effects of the nitrous oxide take a few minutes and although it is used to sedate the patient it is not intended to put them fully to sleep. Using nitrous oxide carries risk and can affect everyone differently depending on the amount taken and the size of the person.

However, nitrous oxide has also been used recreationally and can be dispensed into objects such as balloons or directly into the mouth. Nitrous oxide is often found in silver chargers that are used to create whipped cream.

Recreational users inhale laughing gas for a rapid rush of euphoria and a feeling of floating which can last for a short period of time, usually around two minutes.

Nitrous oxide is commonly referred to as ‘laughing gas’ as it slows the body down and once it kicks in, it can cause the user to feel light headed and have a laughing fit.

What are the side effects of laughing gas?

Laughing gas is safe to use when it is provided by a doctor under a safe environment and during a medical procedure. However, there are many health risks when a medical professional is not present.

Inhaling nitrous oxide on a recreational basis can create a feeling of dizziness, which can lead to falls, headaches and in extreme cases hallucinations.

Laughing gas can also cause lung and throat damage.

The negative side effects of the drug can also lead to lowering of blood pressure, a heart attack, fainting and nerve damage due to the tingling sensation.

When used on a long term basis laughing gas also leads to an increased risk of developing depression and memory loss in later life.

One user of the drug Kerry Donaldson told BBC Radio 4 that on average she used 600 canisters of laughing gas in a week, which caused a disc bulge in her lower back. She is now unable to walk and requires around the clock care from her father.

Is it illegal to buy NOS in UK?

Laughing gas is the second most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK. While the sale of nitrous oxide has been illegal in the UK since 2016, it is not currently a crime to be caught in possession of the drug.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 36 deaths in Britain related to the drug between 2001 and 2016.

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