LISBON: Recreational use of laughing gas is an increasing worry in Europe, the European Union’s drugs agency (EMCDDA) said on Monday, stressing the risk of poisonings, burns and nervous system damage.
“The rise in the recreational use of nitrous oxide in some parts of Europe is a cause for concern,” EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel said.
“There is a general perception among users that inhalation of nitrous oxide is safe.
“Yet we see that more frequent or heavier use of the gas increases the risk of serious harms.”
Nitrous oxide has a variety of legitimate medical, industrial, commercial and scientific functions.
It is used as a food additive and as an anaesthetic.
In recent years, it has also become more popular as a relaxant that leaves the user feeling euphoric, the EU drugs agency said.
This is because it is easily available, cheap and generally perceived as being “a relatively safe drug”.
“A profitable and expanding supply chain has developed, with specialised internet stores directly promoting the gas for its recreational use or offering it under the guise of its use to make whipped cream,” the study explained.
Heavy and frequent use of the gas has led to a “small but significant rise” in poisonings and other health problems since 2017.
These range from damage to the nervous system (neurotoxicity) because nitrous oxide irreversibly inactivates vitamin B12 in the body, severe frostbite from exposure to the freezing gas, and lung injuries caused by the high-pressure release of the gas from larger cylinders.
The Netherlands has also charted a significant rise in car accidents involving users of the gas, the report said.
“It is therefore important to avoid normalising and unintentionally promoting its use,” Goosdeel stressed.