Use of potentially lethal laughing gas on the rise in Sheffield - what the law says about nitrous oxide

The use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is on the rise in Sheffield, say police, who have warned about the potentially lethal effects of taking the drug.

Thursday, 9th July 2020, 1:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th July 2020, 1:55 pm

The small silver canisters are becoming an increasingly common sight on streets and in parks around the city but police say few people – including those taking them – realise just how dangerous they are.

PCSO Adrian Tolson, of the Sheffield South West neighbourhood policing team, said officers were seeing an increase in recreational use of the drug – traditionally used by dentists and to make whipped cream – with potentially tragic consequences.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is on the rise in Sheffield (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

“It appears that many of those using nitrous oxide for a ‘high’ believe the gas is safe to use, but this is far from the truth,” he said.

Supply of the drug for human consumption is banned under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act and could land you with up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine but there’s currently no penalty for possession.

The contents of the canister are usually emptied into a balloon before being inhaled because inhaling it directly from the canister, in which it is under high pressure, is extremely dangerous and can cause people to stop breathing.

But even using a balloon, those taking it risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen, or experiencing dizziness, which may lead them to act carelessly or dangerously.

Regular use can lead to a form of anaemia or serious nerve damage, and can stop you forming white blood cells properly, according to the drug support website Talk to Frank.

PCSO Tolson said: “Soon after using nitrous oxide recreationally people can experience vomiting, dizziness and fainting. A&E departments have had a number of people through the doors with injuries after having accidents while dizzy and confused. Figures show eight deaths linked to the use of nitrous oxide in 2016 alone.”

He added that cheaper canisters are often unregulated imports from China which have in many cases been shown to contain ‘particulate matter and an oily residue’ – posing additional unknown risks.

He said it was important to make people aware of the dangers of using the drug and the penalties for its supply.