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Nottinghamshire Police warn the public that Nitrous Oxide is now illegal and inform them of the risks, results and other factors will be if the drug is used for recreational use

Nottinghamshire Police have advised the public that the recreational use of nitrous oxide is illegal from today (Wednesday, November 8, 2023).

Repeat serious users of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison and dealers up to 14 years under the new ban, which makes nitrous oxide a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The new legislation makes it a criminal offence to possess nitrous oxide in circumstances where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it – for example ‘to get high’.

The ban is in force from today. Image: Nottinghamshire Police.
The ban is in force from today. Image: Nottinghamshire Police.

Consequences could include:

  • an unlimited fine
  • a visible community punishment
  • a caution – which would appear on their criminal record
  • a prison sentence for repeat serious offenders

The change in the law was made after studies suggested nitrous oxide was linked to antisocial behaviour including intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks, often leaving empty canisters scattered across public spaces.

Heavy, regular abuse of the drug also poses significant health risks for users including anemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.

It has been identified as having potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving.

There are still many necessary uses for nitrous oxide and those with a legitimate reason for possessing the substance will be exempt from the ban.

For example, it will continue to be lawful for catering purposes and in maternity wards when used as pain relief during labour.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not intending to consume it for its psychoactive effects.

The maximum sentence for production, supply importation, or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has now doubled, from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.

As is already the case, there is also a responsibility on legitimate producers and suppliers of nitrous oxide to not be reckless as to whether someone is buying their product to misuse it, with no legitimate reason. Turning a blind eye will also be considered as committing an offence.

Sergeant Graham Whitt, of Nottinghamshire Police’s Substance Misuse team, urged people to familiarise themselves with the law changes.

He said: “The recreational use of nitrous oxide is a worrying trend that puts people’s health at risk, hence why the law has been changed.

“We are encouraging people to familiarise themselves with the changes in the law and to really think about the possible consequences of possessing, selling, or inhaling this substance.

“We’re also asking parents and families to support us by being vigilant for the signs of nitrous oxide and to talk to their children about the risks associated with it and ensure they are safe.

“I would also ask our local communities to help us keep people safe. If you see any suspicious activity where you think nitrous oxide is being consumed, please report it to Nottinghamshire Police on 101.”

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas, also known as ‘laughing gas’. It can be misused for its psychoactive effects – or to ‘get a high’ – by inhalation.

It is already illegal to produce, supply, import, or export nitrous oxide for psychoactive purposes.

There is also a responsibility on suppliers to not be reckless as to whether someone might be buying from their legitimate business to misuse the drug.

There have been growing concerns about the misuse of nitrous oxide and its impacts.

Heavy nitrous oxide use can result in serious health harms such as neurological damage and even death due to the risk of falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen.

Associated antisocial behaviour causes wider harm felt by communities and to the environment.

In 2020/21, nitrous oxide was the third most used drug among 16 to 59-year-olds in England and Wales according to NHS data.

A separate ONS report suggested that equates to around 230,000 young people who inhaled this harmful substance in England and Wales in the year ending June 2022.

There are a broad range of legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, for example, pain relief in medical settings, including dentistry. It is also used legitimately in industry, for manufacturing and technical processes, such as food packaging, but also in catering, as a whipped cream propellant. Hobbyists also use it in activities such as drag racing and model rocketry.

You can report incidents by contacting Nottinghamshire Police on 101.

In an emergency, call 999.

You can also contact Crimestoppers to report a crime anonymously at www.crimestoppers-uk.org or by calling 0800 555 111.

The Nottingham Recovery Network is a publicly funded service that has been established to support people aged 25+ who misuse drugs and alcohol. It is the commissioned and quality-assured, single point of contact for adults looking for advice, support, and treatment in Nottingham City.

More information can be found here.

CGL The Place is a support service for young people and families affected by drugs or alcohol.

It aims to provide young people up to the age of 25 with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to identify and appropriately respond to risks associated with substance use.

More information can be found here.

Change Grow Live offers an all-age service to everyone living in Nottinghamshire who is experiencing problems with drugs and/or alcohol.

More information can be found here.

The free and confidential service includes support for individuals as well as children and family members impacted by someone else’s substance misuse.

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