HomeHealthWhat is nitrous oxide and why is it being banned?

What is nitrous oxide and why is it being banned?

The government has announced that possession of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is now a criminal offense in England and Wales. The use of this gas has increased dramatically during the pandemic, particularly among 16 to 24-year-olds.

Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas commonly used as a painkiller in medicine and dentistry. It is often mixed with oxygen as “gas and air” to help reduce pain during childbirth. It is also used in catering, such as in the production of whipped cream. Recreational users often buy small metal canisters of the gas, release it into a balloon, and inhale the contents.

When inhaled, nitrous oxide can make people feel relaxed, light-headed, or dizzy. However, it can also cause headaches, anxiety, and fainting. In more severe cases, it can lead to neurological damage, including tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, stiff muscles, weak limbs, and other symptoms.

Despite its dangers, the ban on recreational use is unlikely to have an impact on environmental concerns, as nitrous oxide’s main impact on the environment comes from human activities, particularly in agriculture and fossil fuel burning. These activities contribute to the excess nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, which contributes to rising global temperatures and damages the ozone layer.

Previously, nitrous oxide was controlled under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, but individual possession was not regulated. Those caught with nitrous oxide for unlawful use now face penalties ranging from a caution to a prison sentence.

Medical use of nitrous oxide is unaffected by the ban, and it will still be available for industrial and other non-recreational purposes. The ban also extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the enforcement and approach to drug policy are up to the respective devolved authorities.