21 April 2015

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You may have seen stories about nitrous oxide, often nicknamed ‘laughing gas’, in the news recently but what is it?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas which when inhaled can make people feel relaxed and euphoric. It has several legitimate uses such as in medical procedures to numb pain or in some food packaging to prevent the food from going ‘off’.

It is normally bought in pressured canisters and transferred to a container, often a balloon, from which the gas is inhaled.

What are its effects?

The effects can vary depending on how much has been inhaled but may include:

  • feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness;
  • dizziness or difficulty in thinking straight
  • fits of giggles/laughter
  • sound distortions or even hallucinations.
  • In some people, a headache can be an unwanted immediate effect.

What are the risks?

Nitrous oxide is not illegal to possess, but this doesn’t mean that it is safe to use. It can cause dizziness or affect your judgement, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously and put you at risk of hurting yourself, particularly in an unsafe environment. Mixing with alcohol increases the risks associated with both substances.

Other risks include:

  • Unconsciousness or death from lack of oxygen. This occurs when the available oxygen for breathing is effectively pushed out by the nitrous oxide. The risk is greater if the gas is consumed in an enclosed space, if a plastic bag is used that covers both nose and mouth or if a substantial amount is rapidly used.
  • Inhaling gas direct from a canister is extremely dangerous and can result in sudden death due to a lack of oxygen.

If someone collapses, call 999 immediately, turn them onto their side in the recovery position to avoid choking and stay with them until the ambulance arrives.

Where to find out more?

For more information about nitrous oxide visit our drugs A-Z or call the Know the Score helpline on 0333 230 9468 for free confidential advice and information.

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