No laughing matter?

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image courtesy

I first noticed the little silver canisters in Clayhanger about a year ago. I didn’t think anything of them at the time. Casually mentioning them to my teenage children they were able to reliably tell me that they contain ‘laughing gas’ and that people use them to get high. On social media, there is much discussion about them. What are these canisters, what should we do about them and should we be worried?

The little silver canisters contain nitrous oxide, more commonly known as ‘laughing gas’. This gas can be used in child-birth and also for dental procedures as it is a mild anaesthetic. It has the effect of feeling happy and relaxed, sometimes accompanied with a floating feeling and often the giggles. The effects are short-lived.

Nitrous oxide was first discovered to have pain relieving properties in 1784 by Sir Humphrey Davy when it was then used as a pain relief in medical procedures but nitrous oxide use as a social drug is nothing new. In Victorian times ‘laughing gas parties’ were popular both in the UK and the USA.

The little canisters containing nitrous oxide are used in catering for putting into devices which whip cream (like the type you might see used in popular coffee houses which also serve ‘deluxe’ hot chocolate and hence have whipped cream on top) and there are many household name suppliers on-line. The canisters are metal to preserve the gas under pressure and can be recycled.

One report I have read from cites statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW):

“CSEW3 shows past year use by 7.6% of 16-24 year olds – the highest level after cannabis, while, the Global Drug Survey4 shows nitrous oxide was used by 20% of UK respondents in the past year. With the exception of 2010, when nitrous oxide was mentioned 5 times, there have been either 1 or zero drug-related deaths per year where nitrous oxide was mentioned (England and Wales 1993 to 2012)5”

So cannabis is still a more prevalent drug which, judging by what I see and smell on walks with the hound around Clayhanger, I would anecdotally say that this is true. Nitrous oxide related deaths have been either 0 or 1 per year (with the exception of 2010) for 19 years up to 2012.

A variety of national newspapers have reported on nitrous oxide canisters over the last twelve months and the feelings about them are very mixed. Depending on the press you read, you will get a different view and I would encourage you to read a variety to get a sense of the problem. I have, and I can say that there seems to be no easy answers. The product itself has a legitimate and safe use when used correctly. But, as with aerosols and glue back in my teenage years, it has a desirable side effect if you are seeking a high which, as with any drug legal or illegal, carries a risk. The nitrous oxide canisters are not being manufactured with the intention of providing a high, just as glue was not. But those knowing the effects of nitrous oxide have found a way to access it and use it for purposes other than those for which it was intended. It’s very difficult to apportion blame. Most of the sources below tell you EXACTLY how to use nitrous oxide as a high. So the press can be blamed for perpetuating it’s use too.

How dangerous is laughing gas? BBC News.

Is the growth in nitrous oxide misuse a laughing matter? The Guardian.

Laughing gas is the party drug of choice for young people. The Telegraph.

Hippy Crack Epidemic. The Daily Mail.

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) letter to Home Secretary and Secretary of Sate for Health. advice on the uses and risks of nitrous oxide.

As for the canisters in Clayhanger, it makes me sad when I see them. Sad because it means there are youngsters hanging out at night with nowhere better to be (I used to hang out as a teenager and secretly smoke Embassy Number One, but I always had somewhere better to be once I had consumed a packet of mints). Sad because of the litter and sad because there is no easy answer. If the laughing gas users are driven from Clayhanger, they will likely just go elsewhere. Clayhanger can’t see them then, so do they stop being our problem?

Laura Terry of Area Partnership is collecting information about the prevalence of nitrous oxide use and has the happy job of counting canisters. If you find any, take a photo or count them and let Laura know where and when you came across them After that, personally I’d clear them up as safely as I could.

As with all ASB issues, report them immediately to the right people:

01922 648291 or email

Textbox is also available on 0845 111 3910

ASB issues can also be reported to your local neighbourhood Police Team on: 101

Remember – In the event of an emergency or if you or your property are in immediate danger dial 999

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