MP calls for tighter restrictions on laughing gas as teens seek ‘lockdown highs’
Ministers are facing calls to introduce tighter restrictions on the sale of nitrous oxide as teenagers across the UK seek “quick lockdown highs”.
Labour’s Rosie Duffield said it is “far too easy” to purchase nitrous oxide canisters for use as a recreational drug and called on the Government to support “better education” on the risks of the substance.
The Canterbury MP added that recreational use has become “much more prevalent” during the Covid-19 pandemic as young peoples’ mental health has suffered having been “forced to be apart from their friends”.
She told MPs that nitrous oxide is “no laughing matter” as it is now secondary in use only to cannabis.
Sold legally, nitrous oxide is used for medical and commercial uses, such as making whipped cream – but is illegal when sold as a psychoactive drug. When inhaled, the gas can cause elation and hallucinations.
The discarded silver canisters that the gas comes in have become a familiar sight in many parks and streets.
Leading an adjournment debate on the issue in the Commons, Ms Duffield said: “If you want to buy cream chargers there are no age restrictions currently. A quick look online this morning showed me that I could have 24 canisters delivered to my office tomorrow for just £9.19.
“Teenagers tell me that boxes sell for as little as £5 locally or I could just walk into one of the 25% of corner shops estimated to sell these chargers.
“If I purchased some canisters for the purpose of indulging a quick lockdown high, I wouldn’t have broken the law. And despite a few websites having small print telling you that the nitrous oxide they were selling was for professional purposes only, no one would have asked me for ID or for the items to be sent to a registered catering, medical or dental premises.
“That is what clearly is the problem here. It is far too easy to be able to purchase nitrous oxide for use as a recreational drug and everyday, up and down the country, thousands of young people are doing just that.
“It is clear to me, and many of the experts that I’ve spoken to, that the recreational use has become much more prevalent during lockdown.
“And this isn’t it any way meant as an attack on teenagers or young people, they are not the villains of this piece.
“The toll on the mental well-being of young people forced to be apart from their friends has been really difficult. And let’s be honest here, every generation has experimented with and will continue to use recreational drugs and alcohol of some kind.”
She added: “So I am calling on the Government to further support local services in disseminating harm and reduction education materials on nitrous oxide.”
Ms Duffield continued: “Tighter regulations on sale and better education on the risks rather than overly criminalising the often young users of this drug is in my opinion the right way to go.
“We cannot stand by and simply say let’s leave this, after all it is less toxic that alcohol, cannabis or ecstasy. That attitude just isn’t acceptable, as nitrous oxide as plenty of risks in its own right.
“So I’m calling on the Government to introduce essential tighter restrictions on the sale of nitrous oxide, backing up our hard working paramedics, nurses, doctors and scientists who are all calling for more to be done so that this year’s zeitgeist for nitrous oxide doesn’t turn into a national disgrace.”
Replying to Ms Duffield, Home Office minister Kevin Foster said: “The Government recognises tackling the misuse of nitrous oxide requires a multi-faceted approach, not just enforcement, not just tackling retailers, but also ensure young people understand and actually people of all ages because it’s not just confined to younger people, the use of this substance, understand the implications long-term.”