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Rise in reports of nitrous oxide canisters on the streets

Published on: June 29, 2020

During lockdown there has been an increase in reports of seeing nitrous oxide canisters on the streets and at beauty spots. Some people who use nitrous oxide do not dispose of the canisters appropriately, instead littering the ground with them. More children and young people are seeing these on the floor outside schools, youth clubs and parks and are asking questions.

What is it?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that when used as a recreational drug is usually inhaled. It is an anesthetic and commonly used by dentists. The majority of people who use nitrous oxide use balloons to inhale the gas. Another method is inhaling from a mask although this is not so popular. Nitrous oxide is also known as whippets, laughing gas/ balloons, not to be confused with helium.

The gas is a depressant drug which can make a person feel relaxed. Some people may get giggly, hence the name ‘laughing gas’. The effects depend on how much gas is inhaled, although typically the effects last a small amount of time. It can also make a person feel paranoid, dizzy, lightheaded and has been known to cause death.

The Risks

It is important to know the damage nitrous oxide can cause. There are many risks associated with taking this substance as a recreational drug. Inhaling a ‘foreign’ gas into your body depletes oxygen levels, leaving you at risk of suffocating. People have also suffered nerve damage, loss of feeling in their fingertips or tingling in their fingers. It can also cause anaemia due to a lack of vitamin B12 and the risk of this is higher for those who suffer with heart problems.

The Law

Nitrous oxide comes under the new Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This means that nitrous oxide is illegal to give away, sell or supply as a recreational drug. Supply and production can get you up to 7 years in prison, and/or an unlimited fine.

If you are worried about nitrous oxide or would like some more information, please see the fact sheet and websites.