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Nurses warn of the danger of getting high on laughing gas


Festival warning on the risks of nitrous oxide

As the festival season gets into full swing, with the start of the Glastonbury Festival today, the Royal College of Nursing is warning of the risks of the recreational use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

The use of the little silver canisters containing laughing gas is still extremely common despite its recreational use being banned three years ago.

Whist the risks associated with other more high-profile illegal drugs are well known, the dangers of the recreational use of nitrous oxide are less known and ignored by many. These can include choking or tightness in the chest, nausea or vomiting and a dangerously high heart rate.

Use of the gas can even be fatal – official figures from the Office for National Statistics show an average of five deaths per year linked to the substance since 2014.

Not only is nitrous oxide dangerous to health, the canisters containing the gas are contaminating to the environment. Five years ago around two tonnes of the tiny canisters were picked up at Glastonbury alone. They can even leave a long-term legacy with the nitrous oxide being nearly 300 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Despite the risks and the ban on the supply of nitrous oxide for psychoactive purposes three years ago it still appears to be readily available. A Home Office Survey published in July 2018 found that around a quarter (23%) of adults aged 16 to 59 thought that it would be very or fairly easy for them personally to obtain.

It is also increasingly popular with those more likely to attend festivals. With such easy access the Home Office estimates that half a million 16 to 24 year olds in England and Wales used nitrous oxide in the last year – with the prevalence increasing for young men. More than one in ten young men used the gas, almost double the number of young women.

Royal College of Nursing Professional Lead for Mental Health Nursing, Catherine Gamble said:

“When people are pitching their tents at festivals this summer, they should not stake their health on thinking laughing gas is safe way to get a high.

“The fact is there are not only immediate risks to health but the damage could last a lifetime.

“Along with the physical effects on the body, which themselves can be very serious, there are the psychological impacts associated with the abuse of any substance which can lead to addiction.

“People need to understand this is not a simple or safe alternative to other illegal drugs. You might be expecting a quick and easy high but you could easily have your balloon burst and come down to earth with a bump that could last a lifetime.”


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