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Nitrous Oxide

Other names

Balloons, Nos, Whippits, Laughing Gas, Hippie Crack, Chargers, NOZ

What it looks like & how it is taken

A colourless gas that is inhaled usually via a balloon and most commonly found in pressurised metal canisters.  It is said to taste and smell slightly sweet.

The effects

Nitrous oxide slows down your brain and body's responses and the effects vary depending on how much is inhaled.

Taking nitrous oxide can cause:

  • feelings of euphoria, relaxation or calmness
  • fits of giggle and laughter, hence the nickname "laughing gas"
  • sound distortions and hallucinations when you see or hear that aren't there

Nitrous oxide can also:

  • give you a severe headcahe
  • give you dizziness
  • stop you thinking straight
  • cause short-lived but intense feelings of paranoia

How long it lasts

How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size, whether you’ve eaten and what other drugs you may have also taken.  Nitrous oxide is often taken in combination with other drugs. So its effects can be unpredictable, as it depends on what other drugs are being taken with it.  

It is a short acting drug which can lead to people to frequently re-dose and end up using more than they intended.

Physical health risks
  • It is very dangerous to inhale nitrous oxide directly from the canister, and doing it in an enclosed space is also very dangerous.
  • Never place a plastic bag over your head.
  • If you take too much nitrous oxide you risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen. People have died this way.

Other risks include:

  • Dizziness, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously.
  • Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia. Severe B12 deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. This can be very painful and make walking difficult.
  • Regular use can stop you forming white blood cells properly.
  • It can be hard to judge the amount to use safely. If you have too much you can end up fainting, having an accident or worse.
Legal Status and Penalties

Class:  Psychoactive Drug

  • This is a psychoactive drug and is covered by the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, which means it’s illegal to give away or sell.
  • There’s no penalty for possession, unless you’re in prison.
  • Supply and production can get you up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.

If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a home, club, bar or hostel, they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any other person concerned in the management of the premises.

Additional law details

As of 2016, nitrous oxide is covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act and is illegal to supply for its psychoactive effect.

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