It’s no laughing matter!
Image by brizzle born and bred
A WORRYING drug craze is spreading across the Bristol area – and it’s no laughing matter.
More and more young people are using nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, to get high.
Nitrous oxide was to blame for deaths of 17 people between 2006 and 2012.
Sellers parade London’s trendiest streets selling balloons from canisters.
Minute high has an intense feeling of euphoria likened to ‘snort’ of cocaine.
Can have devastating consequences including blackouts and heart attacks.
Doctors say they have no way of knowing how much gas puts users at risk.
In 1799, the physician Thomas Beddoes opened the Pneumatic Institution in Dowry Square in Hotwells. Free treatment was advertised for those suffering from consumption, asthma, dropsy, "obstinate Venereal Complaints" and scrophula. The laboratory superintendent was Humphry Davy, who investigated nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, using equipment designed by James Watt. Under Davy’s supervision laughing gas parties were held, attended by guests such as Robert Southey, Thomas Wedgwood and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Hippy crack epidemic: Costing as little as £3 a hit, it’s now inhaled openly on Britain’s streets. But the young professionals getting high on laughing gas don’t realise it’s deadly
Used safely every day in hospitals, dentists and the food and car industries, experts have warned regular inhalation can cause serious, long-term health damage.
They say that if used regularly and irresponsibly, laughing gas can cause brain damage due to oxygen deprivation killing cells.
Asphyxiation is also a danger, depending on how the gas is inhaled. People sometimes put a bag on their heads or use it in confined spaces. More commonly, injuries occur during accidents caused by the condition users find themselves in when inhaling the gas – euphoria, dizziness, sedation and hallucinations.
Another danger according to medical studies is that, when pressurised, nitrous oxide can be so cold it can cause frostbite to the nose, lips and vocal chords.
It is not an offence to possess or inhale laughing gas, but it is an offence to supply it for the purposes of inhalation.
Ironically, it was in Bristol back in 1798 that nitrous oxide was first tested as a gas for pain relief.
More than two centuries on, its growing recreational use has surfaced in The Bristol Drug and Alcohol Online Survey 2012, published by the Safer Bristol Partnership.
It reveals that almost 40 per cent of those surveyed had inhaled laughing gas in the last year, making it the fourth most popular drug ahead of the likes of cocaine, amphetamines and the tranquilliser ketamine.
Only alcohol, cannabis and ecstasy were more commonly used by the people surveyed, who had not previously accessed drug treatment.
The vast majority who admitted using laughing gas are under 24 and only started using it in the last five years. They tend to get high once or twice a week but only a third were concerned that it would affect their health, relationships, or other aspects of their lives.
Nitrous oxide canisters are available at a modest price and the most common way people use the gas is by using it to inflate balloons and then inhaling it.
Avon and Somerset police’s drugs strategy manager Paul Bunt said it was at the Glastonbury Festival five years ago that the constabulary first became aware of it becoming a popular “high”.
Officers have since come across the craze among university students and groups of teenagers inhaling from balloons in parks.
“We are well aware of its popularity,” Mr Bunt said. “We first came across it at Glastonbury in 2007 or 2008 when we observed people lining up in big groups to buy these balloons for £3 a time. It’s become more of a problem in the last three years.
“My contact with laughing gas tends to be people using it to have a good time, as opposed to people using it as an addiction. It’s a party drug, it’s a very short-lived high.
“From a policing point of view, if we come across people supplying nitrous oxide they will be arrested, as they would for supplying any other drug.
“To people who use laughing gas it seems very minor, because they’re literally just having a laugh and it lasts for just a few seconds. But it can cause brain damage. The problem is, when it’s taken regularly it can cause damage and we would strongly advise against trying it.
“At the end of the day, it’s an effective painkiller when used in the right way, but when used in the wrong way it will cause you medical problems. You do, in the UK, still get 20 to 30 deaths per year from inhalants, which include substances such as glue and nitrous oxide.”
A concerned mother from North Bristol, who did not want to be named, told the Evening Post how her 15-year-old son was injured while using laughing gas.
“My son was using it with a group of friends,” she said. “They were still using it as they were walking home. All of a sudden, my son became very dizzy, fell and banged his head on a parked car. He had a very nasty cut and we had to take him to the BRI, where he had about four or five stitches.
“I think people do not even think it is a drug and they see it as quite low risk, but the side effects mean that serious accidents can happen.
“I think young people should be made aware of the risks. It’s obviously readily available, but it’s a very powerful substance.”
The overall findings of the on-line survey are being used by Safer Bristol and the NHS to commission and tailor drug and alcohol services in the future.
Maggie Telfer, chief executive of the Bristol Drugs Project (BDP), has an arm called POD (People using Other Drugs), which helps those who have issues with highs such as banned high mephedrone, the popular tranquilliser MXE and substances such as nitrous oxide.
Maggie Telfer, BDP’s chief executive, said: “The majority of people who come through our doors have heroin or crack cocaine addictions,
“However, POD provides help and advice for people who may have issues with different substances, some of which may be legal.
“But Just because they are legal, it doesn’t mean they are safe. The problem with these chemicals so-called ‘research chemicals’ is a lot of the time nobody knows very much about their long-term effects.”
Later this month, the BDP will launch their Harm Reduction Buses, which will park up in places such as the city centre on Friday nights offering free and confidential information and advice.
One of the authors of the survey, Mark McNally, substance misuse project officer for Safer Bristol, said: “We wanted to find out the needs of people in Bristol other than the ones who are already in touch with services. The survey has shown a need for high quality, flexible services and the information will help us to improve drug and alcohol services and education.”