Nitrous Oxide is a non-flammable gas which is used medically as a mild anaesthetic during childbirth in combination with oxygen (known as ‘gas and air’). Once inhaled it works by giving a slight ‘out of body’ effect. It has strong, short-term intoxicating effects but there is a relatively small risk of overdose when inhaled from small balloons. Taking large amounts can starve oxygen to the body and can cause brain damage – that’s why people tend to just take one balloon as a dose. Heavy, regular use is rare but can cause psychological addiction.
Nos is purchased in small ‘whipped cream’ canisters from the internet or from friends. It is has increased in popularity in recent years mainly among 14-18 year olds – it is very popular at festivals. Its use is usually occasional as a novelty. Some poly drug users may use it more regularly in combination with stimulants such as Mephedrone to accentuate the effects, sometimes to increase sexual gratification. It is relatively cheap to purchase, £1 or less per dose.
Also known as: Nos, Laughing gas
N2O gives a euphoric feeling of being ‘knocked out’ for 30-90 seconds. It makes most people laugh in a very short time. It effects bodily co-ordination, makes people very dizzy and can cause a very temporary paralysis. Taking several doses can prolong the dream-like effects. It is not a hallucinogen but there is often a distortion of audio and visual perceptions.
The major risk of harm from N2O derives from its strong intoxicating effects and loss of bodily control. The risk of physical injury is ever present if that person is already intoxicated by other substances, if it is taken when standing up or after several doses. N2O is not a risk free substance. Exposure to large amounts starves oxygen to the body and can cause brain damage. Daily use is rare but would lead to a level of dependence -it would also cause vitamin B deficiency and some nerve damage – felt as ‘pins and needles’ and perhaps some numbness.
Nos is riskier drug than is often perceived. It is best not to take it with other drugs. Inhaling laughing gas after several glasses of alcohol may cause vomiting and risk of inhaling it. Inhaling from a balloon means you can better measure the dose. It is always better to take it sitting or lying down as the effects may make you fall down and injure yourself. Taking it on the street can be a risky environment close to traffic. Better not take it alone, especially the first time.
Nos is legal to possess but in May 2016 the law changed around its sale and supply. Laughing gas has been included as a banned substance under the Psychoactive Substances Act. That means it is illegal to supply if not for commercial purposes. It is not likely to be a high priority for police and it is expected that it will remain in use for a while at least.
Is nitrous oxide harmful?
In isolated cases, nitrous oxide has caused harm. People tend to take after alcohol and/or cannabis which can lead to a loss of balance and accidents. Extensive use is linked with B12 deficiency symptomatic of: tiredness; depression; numbness & tingling in the feet.
What should I do if I know someone who is selling nitrous oxide?
They should be aware that it is now illegal to sell, supply and distribute nitrous oxide. This has resulted in numerous prosecutions with people fined or imprisoned. If you know anyone who sells lots of canisters, they should know they are taking a big risk.