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Nitrous Oxide

The contemporary resurgence in recreational use of Nitrous Oxide has predominately revolved around the sale of single use finder length steel cartridges containing 8grams of pressurised gas, disingenuously sold from shops and websites for making whipped cream. More recently there has been an increase in availability and popularity of the much larger 600+ gram tanks containing 80 times the amount of gas.

In Warwickshire there have been reports of cannisters being found in public places and associated with locations where young people handout. The Community Safety Partners including the Police, District and Borough Councils, WCC Community Safety Team, Trading Standards, Public Health Drugs and Alcohol Commissioning services have been working together to provide education to the public on the use of Nitrous Oxide. 

This page has information for users, parents/ carers and shops that are or may be considering supplying canisters to those under the age of 18.

Nitrous oxide is a gas used medically as an anaesthetic. It’s also used in catering as the propellant in whipped cream chargers. Some people use it as a recreational drug, usually inhaled from a balloon to get high. When sold for recreational purposes, nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’ tends to come in small metal canisters (‘whippits’). The gas is then decanted into a balloon from which it is inhaled. Nitrous oxide acts as a depressant (not unlike alcohol), in that it slows down the body’s system and leads to feelings of relaxation or happiness – hence the name, ‘laughing gas.

What Are The Risks?  

If used as above Nitrous oxide is a psychoactive drug. 

It is very dangerous to inhale nitrous oxide directly from the cannister and doing it in an enclosed space is also very dangerous. 

  • Too much nitrous oxide can increase risks of falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen. People have died this way. 
  • Dizziness, which may cause careless or dangerous behaviour. 
  • Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia. Severe B12 deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. This can be very painful and make walking difficult. 
  • Regular use can stop the normal formation of white blood cells. 
  • It can be hard to judge the amount of nitrous oxide that can be used safely.

What Is The Law On Supplying Canisters?

It becomes an offence when the seller has to know or suspect, or ought to know or suspect, that the substance is a psychoactive substance and knows, or is reckless as to whether, the psychoactive substance is likely to be consumed by the person to whom it is supplied, or by some other person, for its psychoactive effects. These products can be legally sold for the purpose they were designed for, but obviously not for their psychoactive properties.

We are currently working with Trading Standards on a letter giving advice to shop keepers who have been identified as supplying Nitrous Oxide Canisters in order that they adhere to selling the canister for the appropriate purpose and do not break the law. 

For more information contact