By Enyichukwu Enemanna
British authorities have banned the use of nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas” to get psychoactive inducement, with serial offenders facing the risk of two years in prison and dealers up to 14 years.
Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that is inhaled and is commonly used as a painkiller in medicine and dentistry. When mixed with oxygen, it is also called “gas and air”, which can help reduce pain during childbirth.
The ban was first proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government in March.
It has now been imposed under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, as part of a wider crackdown on lawlessness before an expected general election next year.
The ruling Tories appear to hope their traditional standing as the party of strong law and order policies can help them overcome a big polling deficit with the main Labour opposition.
“Today we are sending a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to their health, but it is also illegal,” policing minister Chris Philp said on Wednesday.
“For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it,” he added.
He said that police now have “the powers they need to take a zero-tolerance approach to this crime,” warning those caught possessing nitrous oxide “will face consequences”.
The sale of small canisters of nitrous oxide has proliferated in recent decades, as young people in particular inhale the drug recreationally for psychoactive inducement.
Prolonged use can cause anaemia, nerve damage and spinal injuries, doctors warn, while the canisters have come to litter parts of urban and suburban Britain, associated with anti-social behaviour.
British law already bans the “knowing or reckless” supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation outside of medical uses. But the canisters have become easily available online and on the streets.
Under the new powers, possessing the drug with the intent to “wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect” is an offence, the interior ministry said.
Those breaching the law could face an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment, or a caution visible on their criminal record.
The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has been doubled, from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Nitrous oxide has long been used in healthcare, catering and other industries, and those with a legitimate reason for possessing the substance are exempted from the ban, the ministry noted.