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UK: Drug Abuse And Misuse

Laughing gas: Possession could become a criminal offence following ‘concerning’ rise in use

Laughing gas is now the second-most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK, according to the Crime Survey. More than half a million people in this age group in England and Wales used the substance in 2019 and 2020.

Laughing gas
The government is seeking advice on whether to make possession of laughing gas a crime

The UK government is seeking advice on whether to make possession of laughing gas a criminal offence.

The Home Office has asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to analyse the harm caused by nitrous oxide following what the department describes as a “concerning” rise in use of the substance.

Laughing gas is now the second-most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK, according to the Crime Survey, with more than half a million people in this age group in England and Wales using the drug in 2019-2020.

Laughing gas
While the sale of nitrous oxide is illegal, it is not, at present, a crime to possess the drug

Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers “stand ready to take action” if the ACMD recommends further restrictions on the drug, but one expert described the move as “a waste of time” and “pointless”.

Former chairman of the ACMD, David Nutt, who was sacked in 2009 after claiming alcohol is more dangerous than ecstasy and LSD, called the move a “gimmick”.

Laughing gas is typically used by being released into balloons from small silver canisters, then being inhaled.

While the sale of nitrous oxide is illegal, it is not, at present, a crime to possess the drug. The government believes this could be a “significant factor” in its increasing use in recent years.