Kick from the cream cartridge: EU authorities warn of nitrous oxide as a drug

Status: 11/21/2022 3:42 p.m

Nitrous oxide is becoming increasingly popular among young people, according to the European Drugs Monitoring Center. The fact that many inhale the over-the-counter gas for a short intoxication can have dangerous consequences – including paraplegia.

More and more young people are inhaling nitrous oxide as a drug. In a recent report, the European Drug Monitoring Center (EMCDDA) warns of a new trend in many EU countries. “The growing use of nitrous oxide for cheering up in some regions of Europe is worrying,” said the head of the Lisbon-based EU agency, Alexis Goosdeel.

Many of the users believed that inhaling the gas was safe – also because the drug is legally available. Laughing gas is sold over the counter in cartridges for spray cream or balloons. There are now their own online shops and social media accounts that sell the gas in flavors such as peach, strawberry or mango.

Popular festival drug

Above all, young people with no drug experience inhale laughing gas – often with the help of balloons. According to the EMCDDA report, there has been a significant increase in users who inhale nitrous oxide more often, in larger amounts and for longer periods of time. The number of reported poisonings in Europe has also increased slightly.

According to the experts, case studies show a growing prevalence of nitrous oxide in EU countries. In Ireland, of nearly 1,200 young adults surveyed, 28 per cent said they had inhaled the gas at least once at a domestic music festival in the past year; among the 619 respondents who attended festivals abroad, the figure was 38 percent.

The abuse of nitrous oxide as an intoxicant has also increased significantly in the Netherlands. According to the Ministry of Health in The Hague, it is the most commonly used drug among Dutch schoolchildren. In addition, there are more and more serious traffic accidents in which the driver had inhaled nitrous oxide.

Severe damage to the nervous system

Laughing gas leads to a short high, but can cause nerve damage up to paraplegia. In view of the increasing spread, the EMCDDA calls for “avoiding normalization”.

The Netherlands have already reacted. The possession and sale of nitrous oxide will be banned from next year, as announced by the Ministry of Health in The Hague. Exceptions apply to medical and technical purposes. Doctors are allowed to use the gas as a light anesthetic. Private individuals can then still buy small cartridges filled with nitrous oxide, for example for whipped cream dispensers.

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