Making it illegal won’t stop ‘laughing gas’ misuse menace, charities warn

Music festival goer holding a handful of spent nitrous oxide canisters.

Music festival goer holding a handful of spent nitrous oxide canisters. - Credit: PA

Norfolk drug charities have warned that making possession of nitrous oxide illegal will not end its dangerous misuse by young people. 

Home secretary Priti Patel has said she is ready to “take tough action” after ordering a review into its harmful effects.

It is now the second most used recreational drug by 16-24 year olds with more than half a million – almost one in 10 – reporting having taken the drug in 2019-20.

Mostly through balloons filled from small pressurised canisters, when inhaled it can lead to fits of giggles, hence its nickname ‘laughing gas’.

Calls have been made for better education around the risks of Nitrious Oxide, after a growign trend

Calls have been made for better education around the risks of nitrous oxide after a growing trend in the numbers of young people misusing it. - Credit: Archant

But it can also lead to dizziness, loss of consciousness and in the long term B12 deficiency and immune system problems.

As part of the review, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has been asked to consider whether unlawful possession of nitrous oxide should be made a criminal offence.


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But charities dealing with substance abuse among young people in Norfolk said moves to make it illegal were the wrong approach.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said those who contravened restrictions needed to face the consequences. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Home secretary Priti Patel has ordered a review of the harms of nitrous oxide misuse. - Credit: Archant

The Matthew Project, which works with young people using substances or affected by others’ use, said it welcomed the review but hoped its recommendations would be “balanced and proportionate” to the harm caused.

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“It is difficult to see that criminalisation of unlawful possession would drive any meaningful improvement in young people’s health or indeed older peoples,” it added.

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project (MAP).

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project (MAP). - Credit: Archant

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project in Norwich, said: “My worry is that when you criminalise an activity it can cause unforeseen side effects. It won’t necessarily reduce availability on the streets, but young people are instead more likely to be drawn into and exploited by criminals.”

“What we really need is good youth services, which have been cut for many years. That is where we can do the education work to help young people who may be drawn into substance abuse that could be bad for them.”

Empty nitrous oxide canisters

Empty nitrous oxide canisters are often seen littering areas around nightclubs, places popular with young people and music festivals. - Credit: PA

It is already illegal for nitrous oxide, also known as Nos, to be sold for recreational purposes, but it can be sold legally for commercial uses, and is commonly available online.

At an inquest last year, use of the drug was named as a factor in the death of 17-year-old Thetford student Patryk Borzuta, who died in his bedroom from asphyxiation, caused by inhalation of nitrous oxide.

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