The recreational use of nitrous oxide (also known as ‘balloons’ or laughing gas) is skyrocketing among Europe’s younger generations, making EU drug experts concerned about its dangerous side effects.
According to a study by drug monitoring agency EMCDDA, the reason behind laughing gas’ growing popularity stands in its “relatively safe drug” status. Users are more inclined to choose silver canisters as their drug of choice because of their low price point and over-the-counter availability.
Unlike its Class A and B counterparts, the substance – which causes 15-second feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and calmness – is present in medical industries as an anesthetic. Laughing gas is also prevalent in commercial sectors, as it is sold in inexpensive cartridges for whipped cream dispensers and water siphons.
The report notes that “a profitable and expanding supply chain has developed,” which saw “specialised internet stores directly promoting the gas for its recreational use or offering it under the guise of its use to make whipped cream.”
Although it is perceived as a safe drug, laughing gas can pose threats to users’ health. Healthline points out that the substance can be “dangerous and life-threatening in the case of overuse and misuse.”
In Denmark, cases of nitrous oxide poisoning increased from 16 to 73 from 2014 to 2021. The same jump applies to France, which saw 10 laughing gas-related incidents in 2017 and 134 in 2020.
Ballooning and driving proved to be a road safety issue in the Netherlands, as the country reported a sharp rise in car accidents caused by driving while intoxicated.
Last week, the Dutch government said it will ban laughing gas from January 2023 amid growing concern about its risks. The sale, import, and possession of the substance will be forbidden, but it will still be present for medical use and food industries.