The sale and use of laughing gas could be banned under tougher plans being examined by ministers.
The Home Office has said nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly used drugs among 16- to 24-year-olds in England and ministers are “actively considering” a wider ban.
The sale of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is already illegal but it is not a crime to possess the gas, and it is used extensively in catering and medical settings.
It’s used medicinally as an anesthetic — given, for example, to women in labor — and it’s also used to create whipped cream in kitchens, so any bans should be drafted carefully.
The government has asked the Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (ACMD) to consider whether to make possession of laughing gas a crime in 2021 and officials have urged the panel to speed up the delivery of its report on the matter.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Anti-social behavior causes misery in communities and we are determined to crack down on this scourge to protect our roads.
“Nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly used drugs among 16-24 year olds in England and can have harmful side effects.
“We have been clear that we want to see common sense policing to keep our communities safe.
“This is why we are actively considering a ban on the sale and use of this harmful drug and will ask the Advisory Council on Drug Abuse to expedite the delivery of the report we have commissioned, which we will carefully consider in making any decisions. “
Current legislation prohibits the knowing or reckless supply of inhaled nitrous oxide, with dealers facing up to seven years in prison.
But there have been calls to ban all direct-to-consumer sales.
The drug is typically released in balloons from small silver containers and then inhaled. Prolonged use can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, and nerve damage. Doctors had previously warned that using laughing gas could cause spinal injuries.
Between 2001 and 2016, there were 36 deaths associated with nitrous oxide in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed the issue in his New Year’s speech earlier this month, slamming anti-social behavior and highlighting the plight of “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.
And in a speech on Wednesday, Communities Secretary Michael Gove promised the government would “tackle public drug use, including the use of nitrous oxide”.