Submission to ACMD call for evidence on health and social harms of nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

Release provided a response to the ACMD's call for written evidence about the health and social harms of nitrous oxide. 

  • On our national helpline on issues around drugs and relaed harms, we have not received any about nitrous oxide, except in relation to its legal status under the PSA 2016.  Across our legal clinics in 11 london boroughss, none have reported crime-related harms from nitrous oxide. 
  • The only community cost we have witnessed is the over-sensationalized reporting of nitrous oxide by the media, which uses terms such as “hippy crack” and has the inevitable consequence of stigmatising young people.
  • While the submission asked for evidence on nitrous oxide's "environmental damage", we believe that that may be too strong of a term. Littering could be addressed by having a recycling scheme for the cannisters, this would also address some of the broader environmental impacts, which although negligible, could be resolved through such a scheme.
  • Between 2001-2020, 56 deaths involving nitrous oxide occurred in England & Wales; 45 of these since 2010. The cause of most deaths from nitrous oxide is accidental asphyxiation from breathing it using a mask or plastic bag without sufficient oxygen. No public campaigns have been initiated to educate young people on the dangers of dangerous modes of consumption nor reduce health harms related to overuse. 
  • Criminalising possession would be ineffective and may even increase health harms due to fear of police and punishment preventing individuals from seeking help. Potentially criminalising hundreds of thousands of young people for what is a relatively safe substance, one that is much safer than alcohol or any other controlled substance, would fly in the face of what is proportionate and necessary, and would cause so much more harm