How dangerous is nos?

Nos (aka Laughing Gas or Nitrous Oxide) is getting pretty popular. Here’s what you should know about it...

Safety and crime
By Parent Zone ·

Solomon

Solomon is on a gap year after finishing school. He tutors in maths and English and plans to go to university in September.

What I think about nos

Please note: this article includes mature themes, including discussions of drug use.

As I was growing up, I liked hanging out with a large group of different friends and, more than once, I found myself in a situation where people were taking nos. I remember one particular party where I could hear balloons inflating with gas every 30 seconds.

While this doesn't happen at every party - at least not the ones I go to - nos is as socially common as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Don’t get me wrong - all three of those are harmful. But nos can do serious damage to you instantly, even if you only try it once.

My memories of nos-filled parties include some grim details. I knew several people that were hospitalised because of nos use. Some of them had trouble breathing. Others were left with chest pains. Once, someone I knew seriously damaged their mouth trying to inhale directly through a canister. And those are just my friends.

As I got older, nos wasn’t just something I saw people taking - I began to notice more and more people selling it too. It completely changed my idea of what drug dealing was, hearing that boys were selling boxes of canisters all over school like it was totally ordinary. Normalising something like nos can be really risky. If nos is readily available from people you know, it can make it seem a lot safer.

Despite the horror stories, I knew many people who took it regularly or sold it and were totally healthy. I obviously couldn't tell what was going on inside, but on the outside they seemed like people enjoying a drug that made them feel light and happy.

I saw it as a normal part of the way some people socialised - if you need an extra canister or a spare balloon, you know you’ll have someone there to set you up. That interaction was always something I liked about groups that took nos - it created a friendly environment based on common interest.

I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other about ever taking nos. Statistically, most people who take it are fine. But the stakes are high. You’ll probably experience a short, fun feeling and enjoy doing it with others - but you might do some serious damage to yourself. Every single time you breathe in a balloon, you’re flipping a coin.

Joe Griffiths - Hope UK

Joe joined Hope UK at the beginning of 2018. He feels particularly driven to help young people make informed life choices, especially around the mine-field that is drugs & alcohol.

Nitrous Oxide and Young People

Those little silver canisters lying on the street? They’re commonly used by coffee shops to whip the cream in your frappy-happy-chino. The contents of the canister are also used in hospitals, to help women in labour (mixed with oxygen, and known as gas-and-air).

But the ones you see on the street are probably there for a different reason. These canisters are usually empty - but they used to contain Nitrous Oxide (also known, amongst other things, as nos and laughing gas). If they were used as a drug, the gas was probably inhaled, via a balloon. The gas is colourless. Some people say it has a slightly sweet, metallic taste.

How does it affect people? Nitrous Oxide falls into the categories of depressant and hallucinogen. It slows down your brain function and heart rate, and can lead to a feeling of euphoria and relaxation (that’s the depressant bit). It can also distort the user’s senses and induce paranoid episodes (that’s the hallucinogenic bit). How much it affects the person depends on how much is inhaled, whether it is inhaled via a balloon, the size of the person, and many other factors.

Nitrous Oxide has been known to kill people, and there are stories of young people dying from it after just one go. It is particularly dangerous if it is inhaled directly from the canister. The pressure with which it comes out of the canister can cause a severe spasm in the throat which blocks the airways and causes the person to suffocate (this is sometimes known as ‘freezing’ your airways). Inhalation via a balloon isn’t without risk, either. It has, in some cases, been known to cause suffocation by an absence of oxygen.

Regular Nitrous Oxide use can also cause B12 deficiency and - as a result - nerve damage.

Is it legal? No. It is considered a psychoactive substance and therefore covered by the Psychoactive Substance Act 2016. That means it is illegal to sell or give away, and someone caught dealing it or giving it away could be sentenced to seven years in prison.

Is it addictive? Potentially. It is possible to become psychologically dependent on Nitrous Oxide, and a number of users have reported cravings for the drug. Having said this, studies are still underway to truly understand its addictive qualities.

Why do people take it? For the same reasons people take other drugs. To fit in. To stand out. To rebel. To conform. To relax. To laugh. The reasons are varied. Here’s the question every person needs to ask themselves: do YOU want to use it? Or are you only thinking of using it because of some sort of peer pressure?

If you know all the facts around Nitrous Oxide - it can kill after one hit, cause nerve damage after prolonged usage, distort your senses and put you in danger - and you still want to do it, that’s your choice.

If on the other hand, you know those things and don’t want to do it, but you feel like you’re being pressured into it and are struggling to resist that pressure - here are a few quick tips for getting yourself out of those difficult decisions:

  • Don’t go. If you know they’re all going to be doing it at that party, or in the park, don’t go to that party or the park. You might have serious FOMO, but I promise you, it doesn’t matter in the long run.
  • Make something up. As a parent, if my children ever feel like they don’t want to be somewhere, they have my permission to pretend that I’ve told them to come home. Fake the phone call. Do whatever you need to do. I’m sure your parents would rather you made something up to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Get friends that deserve you. If the same friends are always trying to get you to do things that you don’t want to do, are they really friends? This might be really difficult, but it might be worth reconsidering who you spend time with. Find friends that want to do the same stuff as you. They are out there.

I really hope that helps. If you want more information please visit www.hopeuk.org. Remember, less than 2% of 16-25 year olds use Nitrous Oxide (and that’s the age group where usage is highest). That means 98% of 16-25 year olds aren’t using Nitrous Oxide. If it feels like everyone is using Nitrous Oxide, they’re not.

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How dangerous is nos?

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