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What are nitrous oxide canisters and what are the side effects?

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NITROUS oxide cannisters are a common sight in the UK, with the silver spheres littering street corners all over Britain.

Also known as laughing gas or ‘hippy crack’, it’s good to know what it is and what it does to your body. Here’s everything we know about it.

Nitrous oxide has been hitting the headlines in recent months – but how dangerous is it?
PA:Press Association

What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that when inhaled can make people feel euphoric and relaxed.

The effects of the gas have seen it nicknamed “laughing gas”, but it can also cause some people to have hallucinations.

The effects are caused by the drug slowing down the brain.

Nitrous oxide is normally bought in pressurised canisters. It is then transferred to a container such as a balloon to be inhaled.

‘Laughing gas’ can also cause some people to have hallucinations
Getty – Contributor

Is nitrous oxide illegal?

Laughing gas is in line to be made illegal under a drugs crackdown.
Nitrous oxide is being reviewed to see if it is so toxic that ­possession should be criminal.

Supplying the drug can land offenders seven years in jail but it is not illegal to have it.

The Government is concerned it is a significant factor in its increasing use.

The Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs may also suggest more education for young people as well as tougher punishment after reviewing its risk.

Home Secretary Priti 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.

“Should the expert ACMD recommend further restrictions, we stand ready to take tough action.”

The ACMD last reviewed nitrous oxide six years ago, concluding it did not seem to warrant control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

How dangerous is nitrous oxide and what are the side effects?

Nitrous oxide can cause dizziness and affect your judgement, creating a risk of accidents.

In large quantities it can also cause the user to faint or pass out.

If nitrous oxide is inhaled through the mouth from a pressurised gas canister or in a confined space it can cause sudden death through lack of oxygen.

Heavy, regular use of the drug can cause a deficiency of vitamin B12 and a form of anaemia.

Severe vitamin B deficiency can cause serious nerve damage.

One woman was left paralysed from the chest down after inhaling 15 balloons of ‘hippy crack’ every weekend. For more information, see drugs advice site, Frank.


Why is nitrous oxide called ‘hippy crack’?

Nitrous oxide is often referred to as ‘hippy crack’.

There is some debate about how the term came into use, some argue that hippy refers to the laid back stereotypical user while crack is a reference to the drug’s quick onset.

The drug may also be called whippits, laughing gas or chargers.


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