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17th Mar 2023

Nitrous Oxide: Home Office will ban laughing gas as early as next week

Ava Evans

Officials will ban the product in bid to tackle anti-social behaviour 

The UK government will ban the sale and possession of nitrous oxide as early as next week, a source inside the Home Office has said. 

Suella Braverman is set to announce the new legislation in an “anti-social behaviour plan”, which is expected to be published on Monday.

While supplying nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is already illegal, it is not a crime to possess the gas, which is widely used in catering, motoring and medical settings. 

Laughing gas or “nos” is a colourless gas sold in metal canisters and typically inhaled through a balloon for recreational purposes. 

The Home Office has said it had seen a continued rise in use by young people, making it the second most-used drug by 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK. 

It’s thought acute exposure to the gas could lead to anaemia and nerve damage, although experts have said such outcomes are still very rare.

The drive from government ministers is thought to concern problems with anti-social behaviour believed to be linked to the drug. 

As Home Secretary in 2021, Priti Patel commissioned a report into the gas by the UK’s independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), after vowing to “take tough action” on it. 

The report published last week, concluded that nitrous oxide should not be banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, arguing that legal sanctions placed on “nos” users under the act would be disproportionate for the level of harm associated with the drug. 

It also said that a ban would cause problems for food and medical industries who needed the gas for legitimate reasons – where the gas is commonly used for whipped cream and sedation. 

Instead the ACMD advised government officials to focus efforts on enforcing the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which already covers the drug, and tackling non-legitimate supply. 

But following backlash from ministers and health officials, a source inside the Home Office said the board “definitely won’t be a blocker to banning” and an immediate halt in sales would be “very likely at this stage.”

Some experts believe the policy will have little effect on deterring supply. Jay Jackson, Researcher with The Loop and Secretariat of the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform said drugs gangs would even “celebrate” the move.

“Drug gangs across the country will be celebrating this news as the government has handed them yet another revenue stream,” he said.

“Rather than wasting even more tax payers’ money and police time criminalising overwhelmingly young people using NOs, Suella Braverman should focus on properly funding local authorities to address concerns regarding littering of NOs canisters, and get a grip on the drugs that are really causing harm to people, the economy and society by promoting a harm reduction agenda.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This government is working to crackdown on drug misuse in our communities, that is why we asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide updated advice on nitrous oxide.

“We thank them for their report, which we will now consider.”