It’s no laughing matter...
NITROUS OXIDE GAS CANISTERS LITTERING THE CAPITAL’S PARKS AND STREETS
IN recent years there has been a large increase in the number of small, metallic gas canisters littering the capital’s streets and parks.
But what exactly are these canisters and why are they there?
These small metallic bulbs contain nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
Used around the world by dentists as anaesthesia, the gas is also used in the food industry, as an aerosol spray propellant often used in whipped cream cans.
That is why they are also known as “creamers”.
Nitrous oxide can also be used in engines to make them run more efficiently, commonly known as ‘NOS’ and popularised by the Fast and Furious movie franchise and video games like Need for Speed.
The gas as a drug is known under several other names too, including whippits, hippie crack and chargers, and is often referred to as ‘doing balloons.’
Inhaling nitrous oxide can have a euphoric effect on a person, helping them feel relaxed.
This is why it is used by dentists as a means of gently numbing pain, but it can also cause hallucinations.
The exact chemical action of the drug is still not clearly known, but it is a depressant, which means it slows down your brain and therefore your body’s responses.
As well as the numbness and relaxation, it often leaves the user unable to think straight, causing fits of laughter, hence the name laughing gas.
It can also lead to hallucinations in some people, while for others it can bring on a sudden and immediate headache.
Like all chemicals that have an effect on your body, nitrous oxide can be harmful.
Even if there are only the “desired effects”, not being able to think straight can lead to a lot of trouble as the user could act dangerously or recklessly and endanger themselves or others.
The drug can even be fatal if the person experiences a lack of oxygen.
This happens when all the oxygen is displaced by nitrous oxide. The risk of this is amplified if both the mouth and nose are covered in a plastic bag breathing it in.
Heavy users can also suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency or anaemia. Severe B12 deficiencies cause nerve damage, particularly in extremities and can depress your immune system, slowing down new white blood cell creation.
There is also a risk of fainting when taking the drug.
The risks of nitrous oxide multiply if alcohol is also being consumed. Some manufacturers of the gas add sulphur dioxide, a poisonous gas, to discourage people from inhaling the gas to get high.
It might be possible to become physically dependent on nitrous oxide.
Talk To Frank, a drugs helpline charity, says that although evidence on addiction is not yet clear, some reports suggest people can crave the gas.
Nitrous oxide is a widely used gas in industry and medicine, which makes some people think it is legal.
This was the case until the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect in 2016, which made it illegal to supply or import nitrous oxide for human consumption.
In addition, just like many other drugs, driving under the influence of nitrous oxide is also a crime, if it can be proved that it has impaired your driving.
Nitrous oxide can also be used in tuned car engines