The Home Office has announced plans to prohibit the purchase and ownership of nitrous oxide in the UK as part of an effort to combat “antisocial behaviour.”
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary from the Conservative Party, is championing a policy, according to The Guardian; any person found with a container of the substance could be punished as severely as those selling or possessing cannabis.
Small metal canisters of nitrous oxide, also known as “nos” or “laughing gas”, can be inhaled through balloons to provide a short-term high.
The legal and proper applications of the substance are numerous – it is used in the production of whipped cream and is employed for pain management in medical facilities.
Under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, the possession of nitrous oxide for recreational use is already prohibited. However, this new legislation makes punishing offenders with more severe penalties simpler.
In 2021, Priti Patel, Home Secretary, requested the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to examine the ramifications of nitrous oxide and outlaw it.
When the idea was proposed, The Royal Society for Public Health disagreed. Burcu Borysik, the head of policy, told The Guardian that the government’s decision to punish minor drug offences with criminalization and imprisonment only serves to exacerbate existing problems related to drug use, such as social injustice and violence.
He emphasized that strictly enforcing drug laws only induces fear in younger generations, prevents them from getting the assistance they require, and causes them to be drawn into the criminal justice system without cause.
In August 2022, The Guardian reported an increase in nerve and spinal cord damage, as well as neurological issues, that some medical professionals attributed to nitrous oxide. This has caused concern about the drug’s short and long-term effects on the body.
In November, the European Union’s drug monitoring organisation, EMCDDA, expressed worries about the increase in nitrous oxide use among people in the bloc. Their report suggested that there had been an increase in poisonings and health issues linked to it since 2017.