“As of the 8th November 2023 nitrous oxide has been brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a class C Drug and placed in Schedule 5 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 covers possession, production and dealing which means “You can get a fine or prison sentence if you take, carry, make or sell drugs or psychoactive substances. The penalties depend on the drug and the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing the drug.”
Selling or supply of nitrous oxide was already covered by the New Psychoactive Substances Act.
We are aware of the following risks associated with the recreational use of nitrous oxide:
Oxygen Deprivation: Inhaling nitrous oxide can result in a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can result in a person falling unconscious and even dying through suffocation or heart problems (acute asphyxiation due to hypoxia, or, less frequently, sudden cardiac arrhythmia). This risk is likely to be greater if nitrous oxide is consumed in an enclosed space (e.g. car or tent), the gas is allowed to fill the room/space or if a lot is used at once or if a medical mask (or any other face/head covering) attached to a larger cannister is placed over the face.
Frostbite: Risk of damage to the lips, nose, throat, lungs and face if inhaled directly from any kind of cannister (the gas is pressurised when released from the cannister and becomes very cold )
Injury: Nitrous oxide is a drug with dissociative anaesthetic and depressive properties so it can make people feel detached, unsteady on their feet so they might fall or lack judgement about keeping safe
Nerve Damage: Prolonged and heavy use of nitrous oxide can deplete an essential vitamin, B12. This can lead to nerve damage– this is uncommon but also serious. Symptoms may include tingling and numbness in fingers and toes and can lead to weakness in arms and legs, brain fog and issues with memory. If treated early some of this damage may be reversible.
Detailed harm reduction information for nitrous oxide is available in our Drugs A-Z. We also have a nitrous oxide postcard and social media graphics. As with any drug it is important to be aware of the expected effects, how to spot any unexpected or unusual effects and what to do in an emergency.
It’s important that if people choose to take nitrous oxide:
- Chose somewhere, grounded, well–ventilated and with people you trust.
- Avoid rivers, roads and anywhere with a sheer drop or risk of falling
- Always dispense the gas from a cartridge into a balloon (avoid sharing balloons) and avoid the use of large cannisters, the use of inhalation masks and never place a bag over your head
- Sit down before taking nitrous in case you fall over
- Keep an eye on use – including frequency and amount. Consider supplementing B12
- If you experience numbness or tingles in extremities visit your GP
Support from Crew
Our website has lots of information about the effects and risks of nitrous oxide and other drugs, how you can look after yourself and others. Our digital Drop-in is open weekdays and Saturday afternoons. You can message @crew_2000 on Instagram or email email@example.com for support, advice or you can text 07860047501 for free if you’d like a phone call back.
- Crew Drugs A-Z : Nitrous Oxide
- Nitrous Oxide Postcard
- Nitrous Oxide Social Media Graphic
- Nitrous Oxide – what is going on
- DrugScience: Nitrous Oxide
- Release – Drugs and the Law
- Antisocial Behaviour Action Plan
- Publication of ACMD’s review on nitrous oxide
- Government response: ACMD nitrous oxide review (accessible)
- Experts condemn government’s decision to ban nitrous oxide