Nitrous oxide is a seemingly harmless substance. You may know it as the gas that makes you giggle at the dentist’s office, but there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Commonly known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide has been used for decades in various industries, including medicine. Its primary use is as a mild anaesthetic and analgesic. It’s also popular as a whipping agent in the food industry and fuel in the automotive sector.
But it’s not all fun and games. The recreational use of nitrous oxide has surged in recent years, and with it, the dangers that few people talk about. While laughing gas might seem harmless due to its widespread use, there’s a significant risk you might not be aware of: drug addiction.
Popularity of Laughing Gas in the UK
Laughing gas used to be a relatively niche drug for decades. Now, it is the second most popular drug among 16- to 24-year-olds behind cannabis in the UK. At least four people died yearly from its overdose from 2010 to 2019. The figures show that the percentage of people in this age group that have used it has increased from 6.1% in 2012/2013 to 8.7% in 2019/2020. The drug is primarily used by young adults, with two out of three users under 24 years old. From a real dealer interviewed, “Everyone is gagging for it.” While the people selling this drug are enjoying the spike in users, we, the ones who treat, are concerned to say the least.
Is Laughing Gas Legal in the UK?
It is sold in metal canisters and commonly dispensed into balloons and inhaled. You find them at parties, concerts, events, and clubs. It induces a short, euphoric high that lasts for a few minutes. It expresses its effects as numbing, dizziness, and hallucination. So, is this easy-to-find gas legal?
According to the Times, the government considered banning the sale and use of laughing gas in England and Wales as part of a drive to tackle anti-social behaviour. However, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) did not bolster the plan. The ACMD said that criminalising possession could lead to the drug becoming more dangerous and stigmatising users. Currently, a final decision has not been made.
However, there will be tighter controls on retailers to prevent the supply of nitrous oxide for misuse. The production and supply of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects are already prohibited under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This law makes it illegal to produce, supply, or import nitrous oxide for human consumption. Still, mere possession is not covered under it, and neither is what people do with their legally purchased doses.
Sellers may be jailed for about seven years or charged a fine. The government said it was concerned about the rise in health and social harms of laughing gas, particularly to young people. Heavy use can lead to numerous adverse effects. The drug has an intoxicating and potentially damaging effect on young brains and nervous systems.
Symptoms of Laughing Gas Abuse
The symptoms of laughing gas abuse often vary. Here are the commonly reported short-term and long-term effects of laughing gas abuse:
- Euphoria and giggling
- Dizziness and confusion
- Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms usually occur a few minutes after inhalation.
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Impact of Laughing Gas on the Body and Health
Laughing gas has long-term effects that users might not see coming. For example, it causes spine damage. An example is Kerry-Anne Donaldson, a 26-year-old former receptionist from Newham, East London. She was left wheelchair-bound after years of abusing nitrous oxide. She first started using NOS at parties when she was 18 and continued to increase her usage over time. At the age of 21, she woke up one morning unable to use her legs or hands.
She now relies on her wheelchair to move around and manage her pain. She cannot walk without assistance, highlighting the devastating long-term effects that laughing gas can cause. She said, “It’s impacted so many people’s lives, and there’s not enough awareness out there about what it can do to you.”
Thus, increasing awareness about laughing gas abuse is paramount. Here are some other long-term effects of laughing gas abuse may include:
- Memory problems: Long-term abuse of laughing gas has been associated with memory problems and cognitive impairments. People who have used it long-term may experience difficulties with memory retention, recall, and overall cognitive functioning.
- Nerve damage: Chronic, excessive use of laughing gas can damage nerves in the body. This results in tingling sensations, numbness, or weakness in the extremities. This condition is known as peripheral neuropathy.
- Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency): Inhalation of laughing gas can displace oxygen in the lungs, leading to hypoxia. This can result in dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, and potentially, loss of consciousness.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: This is another chronic long-term effect of laughing gas abuse. Chronic abuse of laughing gas depletes the body’s vitamin B12 stores. Ultimately, this leads to neurological complications, such as numbness, tingling, and nerve damage.
Preventing and Addressing Laughing Gas Abuse
Education, awareness, and the ability to identify signs of abuse are essential in preventing and addressing laughing gas abuse. As Kerry-Anne Donaldson mentioned, there is not enough awareness about laughing gas.
Raising awareness about the dangers of laughing gas can promote public health and empower individuals to make informed decisions about their well-being. Efforts should include educating young people about the short-term and long-term effects of abuse, the potential for addiction, and the risks of combining laughing gas with other substances.
This is also why we decided to cover this problem in the current article, hoping that, if you have come here to read about a substance you are using, we will help you decide against continuing your laughing gas abuse or to seek help.
Professional Help from the Providence Projects
Recognising the signs of abuse in loved ones is crucial for early intervention and providing support. This way, we can get you the help you need on time. Providence Projects offers a safe space to detox and heal from laughing gas abuse and addiction.
At the Providence Projects, we understand that each person’s journey is unique. If you come to us for treatment, we will start by conducting assessments to thoroughly understand your situation. Based on the assessment, we develop personalised treatment plans catering to the specific challenges of laughing gas abuse.
Reaching out to Providence Projects helps you receive the guidance and support needed to overcome laughing gas addiction. Our expertise, experience, and comprehensive approach to treatment greatly enhance the chances of successful recovery and long-term wellness. Remember, taking the first step towards seeking help is a courageous decision that can lead to a healthier and happier life.