Science

Time to get serious or still a laughing matter?

For most people exposure to laughing gas, or nitrous oxide (NOx), is limited to its use as an anaesthetic numbing agent on the operating table. But for some it is rapidly becoming the party drug of choice.

NOx induces a euphoric sense of detachment from the body that many users feel as a warping of their surroundings. With most dealers offering the experience for as little as £1, the sub-minute high is very appealing. The insignificant cost and the rapid onset of this high has attracted some students to laughing gas on a regular basis, turning them away from more traditional student highs such as smoking marijuana.

Although the recreational use of laughing gas is illegal, acquiring the drug is quite simple. This is due to the lack of regulation over the online sale of NOx for propellant systems. NOx is the primary propellant used in the ‘squirty cream’ industry and is distributed to food outlets nationwide, which makes determining the client list very difficult. Unless laughing gas is removed from the food industry, it’s unlikely to become any less popular as a recreational drug.

The drug’s associated health risks are forcing authorities to take a much stricter line in tackling its use. Although it is inhaled at room temperature, laughing gas is stored below zero degrees Celsius. If not allowed to warm up completely beforehand, inhalation can result in suffering from ‘cold burns’ to the lips, throat and lungs, killing cells in the same way as heat burns do. In addition, long-term side effects include mental problems such as depression, which can arise when the user becomes dependent on the short bursts of euphoria provided by the drug.

The dangers were made apparent by the shocking death of Joseph Benett, aged 17, who died on 27th September this year. After inhaling laughing gas at a friend’s house party on 31st August, he suffered a cardiac arrest, fell into a coma and later died in hospital. Tragedies such as this bring home the fact that NOx is not always a laughing matter.

Ben Munson

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