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Recreational use of laughing gas now illegal in the UK

The UK has become the second country to make the recreational use of laughing gas illegal – with those caught misusing or selling the drug now facing hefty prison sentences.

The drug – which is also known as nitrous oxide or “nos” – is commonly used throughout the catering industry to whip cream and in the medical sector as a form of pain relief by dentists and doctors. However, in recent years recreational use of the substance as a party drug has surged, and a number of health risks by those abusing it have been documented.

Commonly used at festivals, clubs and raves, laughing gas has become the second-most misused drug by 18 to 24-year-olds across the country (via Sky News), and has been proven to be linked to risks including nerve damage and loss of eyesight.

The new ban on the substance, however, has been issued by the Tory government in a bid to crack down on litter and anti-social behaviour. As discussed back in September, when the ban was first announced, the home secretary stated that “yobs” were taking advantage of public spaces and creating “a disgraceful mess” with the canisters. The ban also highlights several road accidents caused by the canisters, with both cyclists and drivers being forced to swerve to avoid hitting them.

Under the new ban, those found misusing the drug could face two years in prison, while those selling it could face 14 years. However, with the high only lasting around 90 seconds and the substance not staying in the body for long, police are concerned that it will be difficult to prove when a person is using it for recreational purposes.

Large group of discarded nitrous oxide capsules in a car park. CREDIT: whitemay/Getty Images

Similarly, Dr David Nicholl, a leading neurologist in nitrous oxide abuse, outlined to Sky News what he sees as the problem with the new ban – stating that it will “prevent people suffering from side effects from seeking health advice”.

With the new ban in place, the UK has become the second country to ban the recreational use of nitrous oxide following the Netherlands, which banned it in January.

While the country has reportedly seen the number of young people abusing the substance dropping from 13 per cent to five per cent since 2018, the outlet also reported that the ban has led to an underground laughing gas industry emerging and an even bigger litter problem being created.

This isn’t the first time that the UK government have made efforts to combat the use of ‘nos’. Back in 2021, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to “take tough action” against young people found possessing laughing gas.

Further, in 2015 the UK government announced that it would outlaw “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. Later that year, Glastonbury festival organisers also banned the substance.  This decision came after two tonnes of empty nitrous oxide canisters were gathered from the festival the previous year.

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