A ban on the recreational use and possession of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, comes into force in Britain on Wednesday, with people caught producing, supplying or selling the drug facing long prison sentences.
The substance, which causes a feeling of euphoria, relaxation and dissociation from reality, has grown in popularity, particularly among young people but the government said it fuelled nuisance behaviour and posed a health hazard.
“For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it,” policing minister Chris Philp said in a statement.
Under the new ban, people who repeatedly misused laughing gas could face fines or up to two years in prison, with a maximum jail punishment for dealing the drug doubled to 14 years.
According to health ministry figures, nitrous oxide is the third most common drug used by 16 to 24-year-olds, and heavy use can result in anaemia, and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.
In September, home secretary Suella Braverman said people were “fed up” with the use of drugs in public spaces, with discarded gas canisters being littered across streets.
The ban exempts its legitimate use including for healthcare, dentistry, and in other industries. Licences will not be required, but users will need to demonstrate they are “lawfully in possession” of the drug and not intending to inhale it, the government said.
Under the ban, nitrous oxide will be prescribed as a “Class C” drug and classified in “the least harmful” category of drugs under Britain’s laws alongside anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines and growth hormones.