Priti Patel orders laughing gas review: Is nitrous oxide dangerous?

Laughing gas: Expert details the impact of nitrous oxide in 2015

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Priti Patel has ordered a review into the side effects of laughing gas. The gas, nitrous oxide, has been used as a recreational drug. It isn’t currently illegal to use the gas, commonly referred to as ‘nos’, but the review could lead to its recreational use being criminalised.

Under current legislation, it is a crime to sell nitrous oxide for recreational use – but it’s not illegal to possess the gas.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded in a review six years ago that the use of nitrous oxide didn’t need to be legally controlled.

The gas is widely used in the UK, such as in making whipped cream and for inflating balloons.

It is easy to access and its cheap price makes it accessible to many.

Its popularity has surged in recent years, particularly among young adults.

According to the Crime Survey, 10 percent of 16-24-year-olds used nitrous oxide recreationally in 2019.

This equates to more than half a million users aged 16-24, making it the second most-used drug among young adults.

Concerns have been raised over the effects and ease of access to the gas, which has led Ms Patel to take “tough action” on its usage.

Ms Patel has ordered a review by the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to investigate its effects.

Is nitrous oxide dangerous?

Dr Alastair Noyce of Queen Mary University of London’s Preventive Neurology Unit at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health and a Consultant Neurologist at Barts Health NHS Trust said: “It is not correct to imply that laughing gas is a harmless drug – we’re seeing lots of cases in hospitals where young people have been badly damaged after excessive use, in some cases irreversibly.

“We tend to see people when they have damaged their spine or nerves through excessive use and can no longer walk properly.

“But there is also a hidden burden of disease flying under the radar with bladder and bowel problems and sexual dysfunction in many more young people.”

There were 36 deaths in the UK associated with the gas between 2001 and 2016, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

Ms Patel said: “Misusing drugs can have a devastating impact on lives and communities. We are determined to do all we can to address this issue and protect the futures of our children and young people.”

She added: ”Should the expert ACMD recommend further restrictions on this drug, we stand ready to take tough action.”

Despite the negative side effects of the gas, Dr Noyce said: “Criminalising nitrous oxide is not the answer.

“We need to better understand patterns of use and gather more hard evidence on the scale of harm through research.

“From there, health messages can be tailored appropriately based on robust evidence and informed dialogue with users.”

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