News 5 September 2023

Laughing gas set to become Class C drug & users could face 2 year jail term

5 September 2023

The UK government has announced plans to reclassify nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or NOS, as a class C drug by the end of the year, making its possession illegal.

The move comes as part of a broader effort to combat anti-social behaviour and drug misuse, particularly among young adults aged 16 to 24, who are among the heaviest users of the substance.

Under the proposed law change, unlawful possession of nitrous oxide could result in a prison sentence of up to two years or an unlimited fine, while those involved in supply or production could face up to 14 years in prison.

However, there will be exemptions for legitimate uses of the gas in medical or catering industries, where it is used as a painkiller and for producing whipped cream.

Nitrous oxide, often sold in metal canisters, is commonly used recreationally for its euphoric effects but can have adverse health consequences, including headaches, anxiety, paranoia and in severe cases, fainting or loss of consciousness. Prolonged and heavy use can lead to neurological symptoms, bladder or bowel problems, erectile dysfunction, or incontinence.

This decision by the government to criminalize possession contrasts with recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which cautioned against a ban, citing a disproportionate response to the harm associated with the gas.

Health experts have also warned against a ban, as it might discourage users from seeking medical assistance.

The reclassification places nitrous oxide alongside other class C drugs such as diazepam, GHB and GBL under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which evaluates drugs based on their perceived harm and potential for misuse.

While nitrous oxide has been regulated for its psychoactive effects since the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which made its production, supply and importation illegal for human consumption, this new change will criminalise possession as well.

Despite the government’s concerns, data shows relatively few deaths associated with nitrous oxide, with around one fatality per year among an estimated one million users, according to Professor David Nutt from Imperial College London.

Comparatively, alcohol, consumed by around 40 million people, leads to approximately 28,000 deaths annually in the UK.

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