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Nitrous oxide - law change

Nitrous oxide (Smartwhip, Fastgas, laughing gas, balloons) is now a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and placed in Schedule 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.

It is a criminal offence to be found in possession of the drug where its intended use is, or is likely to be, wrongfully inhaled and/or in cases of intent to supply. 

Those found in unlawful possession will face either an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment or a caution - which would appear on their criminal record. Repeat serious offenders may face a prison sentence of up to two years, an unlimited fine, or both. 

The penalty for supply or production will double, to up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

What is nitrous oxide? 

A colourless gas with a range of non-medical and medical uses. For example it is used as a sedative, anaesthetic agent and in pressurised chargers in the catering industry. 

Impact on the brain and body
  • nerve damage
  • lack of oxygen to the brain
  • anaemia
  • arrhythmia (changes to heartbeat) 
  • slowed down responses 
  • hallucinations 
  • short-lived, intense feelings of paranoia

Taking too much nitrous oxide can result in suffocation and death. 

Between 2001 and 2020, nitrous oxide was the third most mentioned volatile substance on death certificates in England and Wales. 

The government announcement outlines full changes to the law.  

Drugwise has more details on the risks of nitrous oxide use. 

To support and educate young people who are either at risk of using illegal substances or currently using illegal substances, visit our Family Hub page.