Laughing Gas Set To Be Banned In England And Wales Under New Law
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A ban on the sale and possession of nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas - is set to go ahead in England and Wales.
The move is being pushed by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, and would lead to those found to be in possession of the substance facing prosecution.
No doubt you’ve come across discarded nitrous oxide cylinders (they look like scuba diving tanks for mice) on the street at some point - which iOS hardly surprising given that nearly one in 10 16-24-year-olds reported using the drug according to a 2019-20 survey.
Supplying nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is already illegal under 2016 legislation, however the gas also has legitimate uses, such as in kitchen equipment for the production of whipped cream for freezing food, and as pain relief in healthcare settings.
However, recreational users inhale the gas for its sensations of euphoria, giggling and hallucinations - although side effects can include dizziness and impaired memory, as well as accidents from leg weakness.
The planned law change would permit the gas to be possessed for legitimate reasons, but would ban recreational use and supply, likely bracketing it under the same classification as cannabis.
In 2021, then home secretary, Priti Patel, requested the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the harms of nitrous oxide, after doctors warned of an increase in spinal cord and nerve damage caused by the drug, including paralysis, and other reports suggest it can cause neurological problems by inactivating vitamin B12.
The Dutch government is to introduce its own ban this year following a surge in traffic accidents linked to the drug - including a series of fatalities.
In a speech this month, Rishi Sunak said the discarded canisters represent a visible sign of antisocial behaviour, which he called a ‘gateway to more extreme crimes’.
He said: “They spray graffiti on war memorials, discard needles and nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds, gang together and cause disorder and disruption.”
The Royal Society for Public Health however, has said criminalisation does not seem likely to reduce use of the drug, while the drugs charity Release said it could leave tens of thousands of young people with criminal records.
In 2015, the then chair of the ACMD, Prof Leslie Iversen, told the home secretary at the time, Theresa May, that possession of laughing gas should remain legal.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Antisocial behaviour causes misery in communities and we are determined to crack down on this scourge to protect our streets. Nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly used drugs among 16- to 24-year-olds in England and can have damaging side-effects.
“We have been clear we want to see common-sense policing to keep our communities safe. That is why we are actively considering a ban on the sale and use of this harmful drug and will ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to hasten their delivery of the report we commissioned, which we will carefully consider in reaching any decision.”
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