What is it?

Nitrous oxide, sold in metal canisters, is one of the most commonly used drugs by 16- to 24-year-olds. When used recreationally it’s also known as hippy crack,laughing gas, nangs,buzz bombs, whippet and balloons.

Nitrous oxide has a legitimate wide range use in the medical, commercial and industrial sectors. It is used in medical and dental procedures to dull pain and also act as a mild sedative. When mixed with oxygen it is used for analgesia and as an anaesthetic.

It is used as a propellant for whipped creams and water syphons; for this purpose it is sold in compact, inexpensive cartridges online or in supermarkets.

Generally, those who use nitrous oxide use a food-grade version of it. The person may suck the gas out of the whipped cream canister, which is used to propel the cream. Cartridges known as whippets contain the gas as well.

How is it used?

Generally, a person will pierce the top of the NOS cylinder and put a balloon over the top of it to suck the gas into it. This helps warm the gas and normalise the pressure before the person breathes in the gas from the balloon. More recently users have been inhaling the gas directly from cartridges or canisters. This poses a huge risk of severe cold burns, throat muscle spasms,breathing issues, brain damage and medical emergencies.

Mixing nitrous oxide with other drugs or alcohol can be particularly dangerous and increases the risk of harm from both substances; again leading to the possibilities of more harm and accidents.

Is it legal?

● Nitrous Oxide is an illegal class C substance.

● Nitrous oxide is classed as a psychoactive substance.

● Possession of Nitrous Oxide, Laughing Gas, is illegal. Repeat, serious users could face up to 2 years in prison.

● Supply and production can get you up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

● Like drink-driving, driving when high on NOS is dangerous and illegal.

Short term effects include:

● Sweating

● Feeling or being sick

● Dizziness

● Headaches

● Shivering

● Fatigue

● Stop you thinking straight

● Paranoia

● Hallucinations

● Sound distortion

● Fits of laughter/giggles – hence the name “laughing gas”/feelings of euphoria, and relaxation and calmness – short lived

● Unconsciousness or death from lack of oxygen

● Induce heart attacks

NOS is a short acting drug which can lead to people redosing frequently and ending up taking more than they intended to. Like all drugs nitrous oxide carries additional dangers of becoming a gateway drug to using more dangerous substances.

Long term effects include:

● Brain and spinal cord damage

● Deficiency of vitamin B12

● Nerve Damage

● Interfere with normal white blood cell production

● Permanent disabilities

● Increased tolerance

● Psychological dependency

● Unconsciousness or death

Withdrawal symptoms include:

● Nausea

● Vomiting

● Extreme sweating

● Anxiety

● Agitation

● Chills

● Convulsions

● Headaches

● Muscle cramps

● Tremors

It may be possible to become psychologically dependent on nitrous oxide, meaning that users develop an increased desire to keep using it despite the harm it may cause and an increased tolerance – meaning they have to use more of the “NOS” to experience the same effect.


Nitrous oxide is widely available on the internet and even at your local shop, supermarket or dealer. Generally, those who use it, use a food-grade version which is easily obtainable either via a whipped cream can or a whipped cream charger.

Cartridges known as whippets contain the gas as well, some individuals suck the nitrous oxide directly out of the whippet.

Parent advice:

Any kind of drug use should never be ignored. Overreacting can have negative results; however parents would be wise to discuss the damage caused by taking NOS with their child/young person. This can be addressed in the context of drug taking generally, so the child/young person understands the possible dangers.


If you think you have a problem or a family member or friend has, it’s best to seek to seek professional help and advice