Young people take “150 nitrous oxide balloons a day”

Party drugs with laughing gas

A neurologist said nitrous oxide is “more dangerous than cocaine” as the substance becomes more prevalent (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Some children take 150 canisters a day of nitrous oxide — a drug “more dangerous than cocaine” — a neurologist said.

Nitrous oxide, also known as nos or laughing gas, is used in dentistry and during childbirth as a fast-acting inhalation anesthetic.

Recreationally, nitrogen-filled balloons are inhaled to provide a quick buzz, and their use among young people has been increasing for years.

But dr David Nicholl, consultant neurologist and clinical director at City Hospital in Birmingham, has warned against the use of Nos as a drug in adolescents.


The gas is widely used by the food industry as a leavening agent for whipped cream (Image: AFP)

dr Nicholl said: “I’ve been a neurologist for 21 years and I’ve seen a definite shift in usage since the pandemic.

“Now compared to before, the amounts of nitrous oxide consumed can be quite appalling – up to 150 bottles a day.

“It’s perceived as safe – and terms like ‘laughing gas’ are particularly unhelpful because it sounds trivial.

“But the stuff bought on the street is pure nitrous oxide and not fit for human consumption. It’s not the same substance used in hospitals and it’s toxic.”

Because it’s so common, said Dr. Nicholl that he considers nitrous oxide “a greater health risk than cocaine.”

“I have a patient for cocaine every few years, but one for nitrous oxide every week,” he added.

For decades, brightly colored balloons and shiny silver canisters have been a common sight at music festivals, raves and nightclub curbs.

Police officers carry canisters of nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, which has been confiscated from revelers who plan to use it as a drug, during the Notting Hill Carnival in west London August 29, 2022. - London's Notting Hill Carnival celebrates Caribbean culture at a carnival considered the largest street demonstration in Europe. (Photo by Susannah Ireland/AFP) (Photo by SUSANNAH IRELAND/AFP via Getty Images)

The Home Office has stepped up pressure to crack down on drug use (Image: Getty Images / AFP)

Nitrous accounts for almost none of the drug overdose or misuse deaths each year, although heavy regular use can cause dizziness and memory problems.

The substance is widely – legally – sold as a leavening agent for canned whipping cream.

Possession of nitrous oxide is perfectly legal, but under the Psychoactive Substances Act it is illegal to supply for its psychoactive effects.

Experts like Dr. However, Nicholl warn that the use and abuse of nos has been on the rise for years, likely fueled by the psychological toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

A 2021 government report found that nitrous oxide was the second most common use of nitrous oxide in England among 16-24 year olds after cannabis.

After a review of the drug’s harmfulness, the UK Drugs Board last week rejected calls by the Home Office to stop the sale and possession of No.


dr David Nicholl does not recommend officials ban the inhalant directly (Image: Dr David Nicholl / SWNS)

Doing so, according to the Advisory Council on Substance Abuse, would be disproportionate to the magnitude of the harm associated with the drug.

dr Nicholl agrees, saying the government must instead deal with the “organized crime group” of social media sellers targeting 16-24 year olds.

“In a way, you have to take your hat off to the sellers,” he said.

“They do marketing on social media and they know exactly what they’re doing.”

He added: “They even have QR codes printed on the page to buy more – it’s that easy to access.

“No wonder it’s so common.”

At corner and other convenience stores, buying gasoline “is as easy as buying a loaf of bread,” added Dr. added nichol

“I go to the pharmacy and I can’t buy 200 paracetamol tablets,” he said, “so why do we have corner shops that sell 600g cylinders?”

Rather than ban the drug outright – which the panel said would be harmful to patients and the food industry – Dr. Nicholl that more education was needed.

Young people need to be educated about the dangerous side effects of the substance, while police have to target illegal suppliers.

“How do we solve the problem by criminalizing a 16-year-old with a few lashes and a balloon on the street?” he said.

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Justin Scacco

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