Possession of Laughing Gas Could Become a Criminal Offence

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has promised to take “tough action” on those who use the popular party drug nitrous oxide otherwise known as laughing gas recreationally, including looking at making possession of nitrous oxide a criminal offence.

Almost one in 10 16- to 24-year-olds reported taking the drug from 2019 to 2020. Under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, it is illegal to supply nitrous oxide for recreational use. However, the legislation does not yet criminalise those in possession of the legal high unless they are deemed to be in possession with intent to supply.

There are divided opinions on criminalising those in possession of nitrous oxide. Drug charity Release believes that criminalising those in possession will affect young people’s futures by handing them criminal records “which will affect their employment and educational opportunities, something that seriously outweighs the harms of nitrous oxide”.

Similarly, in 2015 the chair of the advisory committee at the time, Professor Leslie Iversen, gave her opinion that nitrous oxide should remain legal, with deaths from it being incredibly rare and the drug causing a lack of side-effects. The committee describes that laughing gas “induces a brief period of euphoria, which may be accompanied by ‘tears of joy’. This appears to be due to a brief activation of opiate systems in the brain.”

Patel is concerned that the legal high leads to antisocial behaviour and will impact communities across the UK. Recently Tower Hamlets council in east London threatened those who participated in antisocial behaviour, such as littering, vandalism, noise, etc., whilst using the drug could be fined £100, as reported by the Guardian.

While laughing gas currently remains legal, it is important for those that use it to understand the potential dangers that it can cause as well as the criminal penalties that supply or possession of laughing gas and other ‘legal highs’ could bring.

Why are the government considering banning nitrous oxide?

The government are considering banning nitrous oxide because they are concerned about the potential long-term effects that its recreational use can cause. There are also reports that it is being linked to antisocial behaviour, which the government is determined to crack down on.

Is nitrous oxide dangerous?

The use of nitrous oxide can be dangerous when used inappropriately. Currently nitrous oxide is only intended to be used as a sedative during medical procedures, such as for dental work.

The common side effects of nitrous oxide include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea

However, when nitrous oxide is prolong used as a high, the long-term side effects can include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Heart attack
  • Hypoxia
  • B12 deficiency and anaemia
  • Nerve damage
  • Loss of memory
  • Depression
  • Weaker immune system
  • Numbness in hands and feet

In most cases, nitrous oxide isn’t considered as dangerous, but there have been times where the drug has caused users severe side effects, such as the ones above. Some unfortunate cases have led to brain damage or even death.

FRANK, an informative website concerning drugs, can provide more information on nitrous oxide and its effects.

Is nitrous oxide classed as a legal high?

Yes, nitrous oxide is classed as a legal high.

Legal highs are psychoactive drugs that contain multiple chemicals within them, some of which the chemicals are legal whilst other chemicals are illegal.

Why were legal highs banned?

The law banning legal highs came into place to try to curtail drug abuse and addiction.

Karen Bradley, Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, explained, “Too many lives have been lost or ruined by the dangerous drugs formerly referred to as ‘legal highs’. That is why we have taken action to stamp out this brazen trade. The Psychoactive Substances Act sends a clear message – these drugs are not legal, they are not safe and we will not allow them to be sold in this country.”

What are the penalties for possession of a legal high?

If you are in possession of a large quantity that could be considered as intent to supply, you are committing an offence under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. The penalties that you could receive are:

  • Up to seven years imprisonment
  • Unlimited fine

What should you do if you are arrested for possession of a psychoactive substance?

If you have been arrested for possession of a psychoactive substance, seek legal advice immediately from a solicitor before answering questions or agreeing to anything.

Get in touch with our knowledgeable criminal defence solicitors today

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