Laughing gas canisters discarded by the side of a road near Ebbsfleet, Kent

Laughing Gas ban aims to tackle anti-social behaviour.

  • Laughing Gas has been criminalised in the UK.
  • Repeat offenders may face up to 2 years in prison, while dealers risk up to 14 years.
  • Re-Solv Charity warns this ban may make things worse.

Laughing Gas, also known as nitrous oxide, has been made illegal for recreational use in the UK, making it the second country to do so.

The drug, commonly nicknamed ‘hippy crack’ or ‘whippets,’ now carries significant jail terms for those caught misusing or selling it.

Nitrous oxide was classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and added to Schedule 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 on November 8, 2023.

Punishments could include an unlimited fine, community punishment, and a caution that would appear on a criminal record.

The catering industry widely uses nitrous oxide or “nos” for whipping cream. Additionally, the medical field uses the drug as a pain relief option.

In recent years, Nitrous oxide misuse has increased, ranking third in drug use in England and Wales from 2018 to 2020, following cannabis and cocaine.

A Laughing gas canister is discarded on Ducie Street in Manchester's city centre.
A canister of laughing gasGass discarded on Ducie Street in Manchester’s city centre. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

Tackling anti-social behaviour

After reports linked nitrous oxide with anti-social behaviour, the government banned it as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan.

The Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp stated: “For too long, the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour… We will not accept it.”

'Nos' Canister discarded with other litter on Manchester street.
This ban aims to address anti-social behaviour, such as leaving litter on Manchester’s streets. Photo Credit: Rebecca Mills

Iyren Maddix, a 26-year-old resident in Manchester’s city centre, voiced his support for the ban. He mentioned an increase in violent and aggressive behaviour associated with laughing gas.

Additionally, Iyren has experienced first-hand the anti-social behaviour caused by this drug.

“I have been kept up before with people outside my window dropping the canisters on the floor and making loads of noise because of the high it gives them,” he added.

Video Credit: PA, Parliament TV

“Criminalising nitrous oxide will not stop antisocial behaviour.”

However, Dan Gibbons from Re-solv, a charity dedicated to supporting individuals with solvent use, has seen an increase in people seeking their services for nitrous oxide.

Dan, who provides drug education and training, said: “The criminalisation of Nitrous oxide can have worse effects as it involves criminalising the person. It can prevent individuals from accessing support, and it risks worsening the stigma around drug use.”

Moreover, he stated: “I don’t think the best approach is to criminate the user, like the 16-year-olds, as it can have life-limiting consequences. However, it will protect the vulnerable as the drug was easily accessible at petrol stations and shops.”

A report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs noted that repeated use of ‘nos’ can cause serious long-term health issues like nerve damage and spinal cord degeneration.

These side effects have seen an increase in cases throughout the UK.