Nitrous Oxide (NOS): Know the risks
- The effects of NOS don’t last long, so it can be tempting to take more and more in a short space of time. This has caused harm as people using NOS can suffer long-term damage to their lungs. The increasing prevalence of larger canisters doesn’t help either. With larger cans, measuring dosage becomes a real challenge and users frequently inhale far more than is safe.
- Inhaling directly from the canister or dispenser instead of a balloon can cause damage to your throat and lungs. This could be temporary and go away after a few days, but some people suffer far more permanent effects. See a doctor immediately if something doesn’t feel right after inhaling NOS.
- If you inhale NOS from a balloon, and then share that balloon with another user, you don’t know what infectious diseases you might be exposing your body to. If you’re going to use NOS, always do so from new and clean balloons to keep yourself and others safe.
- Using NOS is almost always used alongside alcohol or other drugs. This heightens the risk of NOS usage becoming unsafe because mixing with other drugs or alcohol increases the risk of harm as the effects are more unpredictable and harder to control.
Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that comes in small pressurised metal canisters, often called ‘whippits’.
It’s often referred to as ‘laughing gas’ because it often caused people to burst out laughing when inhaled.
As well as ‘the giggles’, nitrous oxide slows down messages between the brain and body and can cause accidents and serious harm.
If you try nitrous oxide, please:
- Go low and slow
- Don’t mix with other drugs and alcohol
- Look out for your mates
- Get help if something goes wrong – call 999 for the emergency services
- Do not share balloons – you can spread infections and viruses
- Care for the environment and your local community – dispose of your waste or take it home
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Below are some common questions you may have
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How is nitrous oxide used?
The gas from the canister, or ‘whippit’, is transferred to a balloon through a dispenser. The gas is then inhaled from the balloon, which creates a short-lasting high.
It seems simple, but the most important thing is to understand how to take nitrous oxide safely if you choose to, what the risks are, and what to do in an emergency.
What do people experience and how can I keep safe?
Most people will experience short-lived and intense feelings of:
- The ‘giggles’
- Joy and relaxation
- Changes to sounds, sight and touch
Some people also experience negative feelings of:
- Fainting or falling over
- Seeing or hearing things that are not real
What are the risks and how can I keep safe?
Laughing gas might sound fun but the risks are not to be laughed at. Using any drug comes with risks, and this includes nitrous oxide. It is important to understand these risks.
Some of the risks you can experience are:
- The effects don’t last long, so it can be tempting to take more and more in a short space of time.
- Some people inhale directly from the canister or dispenser instead of a balloon, which can damage the throat and lungs.
- Sharing balloons can pass on infections.
- Mixing with other drugs or alcohol increases the risk of harm as the effects are more unpredictable and hard to control.
- Oxygen flow to the brain can be affected, causing dizziness, unconsciousness or fainting.
- Solvent gases (like nitrous oxide) can cause the heart to beat irregularly, increasing the risk of heart failure.
- Heavy use, over a long period, has been linked to a lack of vitamin B12. This can cause nerve damage, leading to pain or tingling in the toes and fingers.
- The canisters are highly pressurised and could cause an explosion if near naked flames.
- Using nitrous oxide in confined spaces, like cars or tents, can increase the risks.
The ways that you can keep safe are:
- Go low and slow. It can be easy to take too much and experience negative effects. Pace yourself and allow your lungs to reinflate. Keep track of how much and how often you have inhaled.
- Don’t mix with other drugs and alcohol. If you do, the effects are more unpredictable and difficult to control.
- Look out for your mates. Don’t use it alone and make sure a mate is with you, so if something does go wrong, there is someone there to get help.
- Get help if something goes wrong. Call 999 for the emergency services and be honest about what has happened. You won’t get into trouble for helping to save someone in an emergency.
- Do not share balloons. This can spread infections.
- Never inhale straight from the canister or dispenser. Always release the gas into a balloon.
- Sit down when using nitrous oxide. This will prevent you from falling over. Always avoid using it near railway tracks, busy roads, or water.
- Avoid heavy and regular use. This will decrease the likelihood of vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Keep canisters away from fires, candles, lighters and cigarettes. This will help to avoid the risk of canisters exploding.
- Care for the environment and your local community. Dispose of your waste or take it home.
What should I do in an emergency?
It is important to understand how to be prepared in case of an emergency for your own safety and those around you.
The ways you can be prepared in case of an emergency are:
- Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have credit before going out
- If someone is unconscious but breathing and has no other injuries, place them in the recovery position, and call 999
- Stay with them to ensure they can continue to breath normally
- If someone is unconscious and not breathing, call 999 and start CPR right away
- The quicker you take safe action the less likelihood there is of serious illness or death
Who can I talk to?
It is important to understand you can talk to someone and there may be many reasons you wish to. Understanding the risks and how to safely take nitrous oxide if you choose to is crucial.
Nitrous oxide whippits are not illegal to possess, although it is illegal to give or sell them to someone else for use to create a quick high.
You may have concerns for yourself or someone you know about taking nitrous oxide. To keep safe, use the information on this page.
To talk to someone confidentially for further support and advice, please contact one of our services across London.