The possession of nitrous oxide, also known as NOS, has been deemed a criminal offense in the UK. It is now classified as a class C drug, with those found possessing it for its “psychoactive effects” facing up to a two-year prison sentence. According to the government, this measure intends to curb anti-social behavior and alleviate potential health damage to users.
Despite previous warnings from experts about the disproportionate nature of the ban in relation to the actual harm caused, nitrous oxide, a substance commonly used by 16 to 24-year-olds for its euphoric effects but known to potentially harm the nervous system, has faced tougher legislation.
Under the new regulations, unlawful possession could lead to imprisonment or an unlimited fine, with up to 14 years for those involved in supply or production. While earlier assessments by experts didn’t recommend a ban due to potential unintended consequences such as users refraining from seeking medical help, the government opted to take a different approach, considering factors beyond the Advisory Council on The Misuse of Drugs‘ advice.
Drug in public spaces
Their decision was based on observations of groups misusing the drug in public spaces, resulting in discarded canisters, and multiple deaths linked to drug driving incidents. Nitrous oxide is prevalent across the UK, with Birmingham notably experiencing high hospital admission rates due to its detrimental effects.
A recent BBC Three documentary revealed that users in Birmingham have progressed from small nitrous oxide capsules littering city streets to larger catering-sized canisters. The documentary depicted young men inflating balloons with NOS in moving vehicles to avoid detection. People sometimes obtain these from corner shops, including the Smartwhip brand, which restaurants legitimately use for culinary purposes.
Naveed Sadiq, a community worker, emphasized the particular issue of NOS use in his community, highlighting its untraceable nature and the ease of use without detection. This is distinct from substances like cannabis or alcohol. After extensive NOS use, Ali required admission to rehab due to the drug’s detrimental effects on his life.
Ali described the severe impact of NOS, mentioning how excessive usage had essentially paralyzed him mentally and physically. He expressed regret over losing his independence, health, and the adverse effects on his daily life due to the drug. The brief moments of euphoria from NOS did not justify the profound negative impact it had on his well-being.