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Nitrous oxide is a chemical commonly known as laughing gas or NOS. It was frequently used as a pain killer by dentists but can now most commonly be found in some food products (to keep them fresh) and is also sold in steel canisters or balloons. Nitrous oxide is usually inhaled.
Because nitrous oxide is a pressurised gas in the canister, there is a risk of harm if you inhale nitrous oxide straight from the canister. This method can lead to sudden death due to a lack of oxygen and is one reason why nitrous oxide is sold to people in balloons.
Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas. Some people say that it has a slightly sweet smell and taste.
It is a dissociative drug which means it slows down your brain and your body’s responses. The effects of nitrous oxide vary depending on how much has been inhaled but they include: feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness as well as dizziness, difficulty in thinking straight, altered hearing and fits of giggles/laughter.
In higher doses it can also cause numb face/hands/feet and headaches as well as nausea and vomiting.
One cartridge or balloon is thought to be enough for two or three doses of nitrous. One cartridge/balloon usually contains 8g of nitrous oxide. This dose should not be taken as a recommendation.
Once inhaled the effects will normally on within 15-30 seconds and the effects from a single breath of nitrous oxide will last between one and five minutes. Most people recommend 10-15 minutes between each dose allowing you to breathe normal air and restore oxygen levels.
What you Need to Know
If you choose to take nitrous oxide:
- -One of the main risks is suffocation through lack of oxygen while taking nitrous oxide
- -Avoid taking in confined spaces e.g. cars or tents to reduce risk of suffocation
- Sit down or take it somewhere with cushions etc in case you feel dizzy or faint
- -Inhaling directly from a tank or canister produces very cold temperatures which can freeze the lips and throat
- -Avoid inhaling directly from a canister- using a balloon reduces the risk of damage to lungs, mouth and throat
- -Using a large bag to inhale the gas increases the risk of suffocation (i.e. the bag covering your mouth and nose if you happen to pass out). Use something with a small opening such as a balloon to reduce the risk
- -Take clean breaths in between each inhalation of nitrous oxide- most harm comes from oxygen deprivation
- -Headaches can last for up to an hour after taking nitrous oxide
- -Regularly taking nitrous oxide has been linked to lowered Vitamin B12 levels which can cause a numbing in fingers and toes leading to long-term damage if left untreated
- -There are reports of a compulsion to frequently re-dose. Regular use increases the risk so try to take breaks between doses an limit the amount you inhale
- -Nitric oxide, a toxic industrial gas, is occasionally mistaken for nitrous oxide and can cause permanent damage to lungs. Be careful to avoid confusion between the two
- Avoid mixing with alcohol or other 'depressants'
- Empty canisters of nitrous oxide cannot be recycled when found in clubs, festival campsites or in the street but could be taken to scrap metal merchants
Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is exempt from The Psychoactive Substances Act when used in food preparation (usually as a propellant for whipped cream). It is illegal to sell if it is thought it is going to be inhaled for a psychoactive effect. The onus is on the supplier to ensure the product is not sold for this purpose.
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