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Laughing Gas becomes a Controlled Drug for Recreational Purposes in the United Kingdom

In recent drug policy changes, the United Kingdom has reclassified Nitrous Oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, as a controlled drug for recreational use. This move comes as a response to the increasing popularity and misuse of the substance, particularly among young people. Laughing gas is now categorised as a Class C drug, carrying potential prison sentences for offenders.

Key Takeaways

  • Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, has been reclassified as a controlled drug for recreational use in the United Kingdom.
  • The new legislation aims to address the rising rates of nitrous oxide misuse, especially among young people.
  • Offenders could face prison sentences, while dealers may face longer jail terms.
  • The ban is part of the UK government’s efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour associated with nitrous oxide.
  • The ban has mixed opinions, with supporters emphasising its potential benefits and critics highlighting concerns over criminalisation and disproportionate penalties.

Nitrous Oxide – The Effects

Nitrous oxide, also commonly known as NOS or hippy crack to tabloid readers, has gained popularity as a drug of choice among young people in the United Kingdom. The gas is often inhaled for its euphoric and relaxing effects, making it the second most commonly used drug after cannabis among 16 to 24-year-olds in England. However, it is essential to acknowledge the significant health risks associated with the abuse of nitrous oxide.

Long-term and heavy use of nitrous oxide can lead to various health complications. One of the primary concerns is the potential for anaemia, as the gas disrupts the body’s ability to absorb and utilise vitamin B12. Additionally, the inhalation of nitrous oxide carries the risk of oxygen deprivation, which can lead to unconsciousness or dangerous situations when not used responsibly.

The gas has been associated with road accidents, as its use impairs judgement, coordination, and reaction time. Furthermore, the widespread usage of nitrous oxide has led to discarded canisters becoming common in public spaces, highlighting the scale of its misuse and potential environmental impact. But is a ban the right approach? Let’s explore the facts about laughing gas in the UK.


Table: Health Risks Associated with Nitrous Oxide Use

Health Risks Effects
Anaemia Disruption of vitamin B12 absorption leads to nerve damage, paralysis, and degradation of spinal nerves.
Oxygen Deprivation Potential unconsciousness, increased risk of accidents, and fatalities
Environmental Impact Discarded canisters contributing to litter and pollution

The ban on nitrous oxide – controversy and consequences

The recent ban on nitrous oxide in the United Kingdom has sparked a heated debate surrounding the criminalisation of its use. While some believe that the ban is a necessary step to address the negative consequences associated with the drug, others argue that it is a disproportionate measure with potentially unintended consequences.

Supporters of the ban, including the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, argue it will help curb littering and anti-social behaviour often associated with nitrous oxide use. They believe that making the drug a controlled substance will act as a deterrent and protect public safety. However, critics, such as the organisation Drug Science, contend that the ban is disproportionate and will unnecessarily criminalise young users. They argue that the harms associated with nitrous oxide use do not warrant such severe penalties, especially prison sentences.

“The ban on nitrous oxide will place additional burdens on an already stretched criminal justice system and could have lasting negative effects on young people’s lives,” warns Drug Science.

Moreover, opponents of the ban argue that it fails to address the root causes of nitrous oxide misuse and neglects potential opportunities for drug law reform. They suggest that instead of criminalising users, a more comprehensive approach should be taken, focusing on harm reduction strategies, education, and support for those struggling with substance abuse.

Transform writes:

Public Perception and Future Implications

The ban on nitrous oxide raises questions about how it will be enforced and its impact on public perception. While some hope that this measure will contribute to a decline in nitrous oxide usage, others fear that it may push the drug underground, making it more dangerous and harder to regulate. This raises concerns about potential health risks and the ability to provide necessary support and interventions for those who need it.

There is also cause for concern on whether this law could ever be implemented when there are many legitimate uses for Nos canisters outside of the recreational market.

Only time will tell how the ban on nitrous oxide will play out and whether it will achieve its intended goals. In the meantime, it is crucial to continue the conversation around drug law reform, exploring alternative approaches that prioritise harm reduction, education, and support for individuals struggling with substance abuse.


Proponents of the Ban Opponents of the Ban
Believe it will reduce littering and anti-social behaviour Argue that the ban is disproportionate
View it as a necessary measure to protect public safety Claim it will unnecessarily criminalise young users
Believe it will act as a deterrent Warn of additional burdens on the criminal justice system

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, has gained popularity among young people in the United Kingdom. Its usage has been associated with various incidents and concerns, highlighting the impact of recreational drug use on public safety.

The Notting Hill Carnival is a notable event showcasing the widespread usage of nitrous oxide. It was reported that a staggering 13 tonnes of nitrous oxide canisters were collected after the event, indicating the extent to which the gas is being consumed. The presence of discarded canisters in public spaces further emphasises the prevalence of nitrous oxide usage.

However, nitrous oxide usage extends beyond festivals and parties, as it has been linked to drug driving and road accidents. The use of the gas can impair cognitive abilities and reaction times, putting both the users and innocent bystanders at risk. These incidents highlight the potential dangers associated with the misuse of nitrous oxide and the need for stricter regulations.

“Nitrous oxide usage has become a cause for concern due to its association with drug driving and public safety incidents.”

Social media platforms have also played a role in promoting and normalising nitrous oxide usage. Videos and posts depicting individuals openly carrying and inhaling the gas have raised concerns about its availability and the ease with which children can access it.

These incidents and concerns surrounding nitrous oxide usage call for greater awareness, education, and regulation. Stricter measures and enforcement can help curb the misuse of this recreational drug and protect the well-being of individuals and communities.

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, poses a range of health risks and has been linked to various incidents. The recreational use of this gas can have severe consequences, including long-term effects on the user’s physical and neurological well-being.

Oxygen Deprivation and Health Risks

One of the primary dangers associated with nitrous oxide use is oxygen deprivation. Inhalation of the gas can lead to unconsciousness or even death due to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. However, cases are rare, and nitrous oxide is used with oxygen for expecting mums in labour wards across the UK without side effects.

According to Commons Library, a parliament-run website, “The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advises the Government on controlling dangerous drugs. It says that long-term use of nitrous oxide can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. In severe cases, this can lead to neurological changes.”

Transform writes: “This is not to deny the legitimate concerns about nitrous oxide. While experts agree that occasional moderate consumption by most users is low risk, as with all drugs, there are particular health harms among a small minority linked with longer-term high-intensity use – known to cause potentially serious B12 deficiency, nerve damage, and related symptoms. This problem is worsened by the poorly regulated availability of new, larger dispensers.”

Incidents and Fatalities

Nitrous oxide use has been implicated in various incidents, with alarming consequences. There have been instances where individuals have collapsed or experienced life-threatening complications after using the gas. Additionally, nitrous oxide has been associated with road accidents, highlighting the dangers of using this substance while driving. These incidents and fatalities serve as a stark reminder of the risks involved in recreational nitrous oxide use.

The Need for Caution

The popularity and availability of nitrous oxide among young people in the UK have contributed to an increase in discarded canisters, which are a common sight in public spaces, indicating widespread usage of the drug. Individuals must approach nitrous oxide use with caution and be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with its recreational use now it has been classified as a class C drug in the UK. Adhering to drug policies and regulations can help mitigate the negative impact on individuals’ well-being and prevent further incidents related to this substance.

Health Risks Long-Term Effects Oxygen Deprivation Paralysis Fatalities
Inhaling nitrous oxide can lead to unconsciousness or death due to oxygen deprivation. Prolonged use can result in neurological damage, including nerve damage and spinal cord damage. Oxygen deprivation poses a significant health risk with the use of nitrous oxide. Paralysis can occur as a result of long-term nitrous oxide abuse. There have been cases of fatalities associated with nitrous oxide use.


The recent decision to make nitrous oxide a controlled drug for recreational use in the United Kingdom has ignited debates and divided public opinion. Advocates of the ban argue that it will effectively address the negative consequences associated with laughing gas usage, including littering, anti-social behaviour, and potential health risks.

However, critics of the ban raise concerns about its proportionality and potential unintended consequences. They argue that it may criminalise young users unnecessarily and place additional strain on an already overloaded criminal justice system.

The enforcement and impact of the ban on laughing gas usage and public perception of the drug remain uncertain. While proponents hope that the ban will curb its popularity and reduce related incidents, opponents fear that it may have limited effectiveness and could lead to more harm than good.


Is laughing gas now illegal in the UK?

Yes, the possession and recreational use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, has been made illegal in the UK. The law was enacted on 8 November 2023 and has been widely criticised by UK drug charities.

What are the penalties for using nitrous oxide?

Offenders can face up to two years in prison for serious chronic use, while dealers could face up to 14 years in jail.

Why was nitrous oxide banned?

The ban on nitrous oxide is part of the UK government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, aiming to reduce littering and anti-social behaviour associated with the drug.

What are the health risks of using nitrous oxide?

Heavy and regular abuse of nitrous oxide can lead to anaemia, nerve damage, paralysis, vitamin B12 problems, degradation of spinal nerves, and other significant health risks.

Why is there a controversy surrounding the ban?

Critics argue that the ban is disproportionate and will unnecessarily criminalise young users, placing additional burdens on the criminal justice system.

What incidents and risks are associated with nitrous oxide use?

Nitrous oxide has been linked to road accidents and fatalities, and its popularity has led to concerns about its availability and misuse, as well as the widespread presence of discarded canisters.

What are the consequences of the ban on nitrous oxide?

The ban is expected to address the negative consequences associated with nitrous oxide use. Still, it has sparked debates around the criminalisation of young users and potential strains on the criminal justice system.

What about at the dentist?

Dentists can still use nitrous oxide in the United Kingdom as this is not a recreational use of the gas.

What about mums in hospitals?

Mums can still use gas and air (where available) in Labour wards throughout the UK to help with pain during labour/childbirth.

The NHS website says this on nitrous oxide: “This is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide gas. Gas and air will not remove all the pain, but they can help reduce it and make it more bearable. It’s easy to use, and you can control it yourself. You breathe in the gas and air through a mask or mouthpiece, which you hold yourself. The gas takes about 15 to 20 seconds to work, so you breathe it in just as a contraction begins. It works best if you take slow, deep breaths.

Side effects

  • there are no harmful side effects for you or the baby
  • it can make you feel lightheaded, sick, sleepy or unable to concentrate, but if this happens, you can stop using it

Further Reading

What to do in an emergency

If you or a someone else requires urgent help after consuming alcohol or drugs, do not hesitate – call 999 immediately and speak to a person trained to assist you. It could be the difference between life and death.