Nitrous oxide – more widely known as laughing gas – will be categorised as a class C drug in the UK, and made illegal by the end of the year.
The news was confirmed by the UK government and states that those found producing or selling the substance could face up to 14 years in prison by the end of 2023.
Currently, nitrous oxide is banned in the country when held for recreational use, however, possession of it is not.
It is commonly used in nightclubs, festivals and other late-night settings, and has gradually become the second most used recreational drug in the UK.
The recent crackdown on the substance also comes after a report shared earlier this year revealed that laughing gas abuse could lead to spinal damage. Despite the results – conducted by healthcare professionals at Barts Health NHS Trust in London – however, the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advised the government against a ban, claiming that punishment would be disproportionate to the harm caused by the substance.
Discussing the government’s decision to make nitrous oxide illegal by the end of 2023, a Home Office spokesperson said (via MixMag): “We are cleaning up our streets and tackling anti-social behaviour. Those in unlawful possession could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine.”
Home secretary Suella Braverman agreed, warning users about the tough consequences soon to come: “The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up.”
“Earlier this year the prime minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering,” she added. “If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time.”
Going forward, legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, such as in medicine or catering, will be exempt from the harsh consequences.
This isn’t the first time that the UK government have made efforts to combat the use of ‘nos’. Back in 2021, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel threatened to “take tough action” against young people found possessing laughing gas.
“[Nitrous oxide] can cause serious long-term effects such as vitamin B12 deficiency and anaemia,” she said, later acknowledging the “devastating impact” it can wreak on communities. “We are determined to do all we can to address this issue and protect the futures of our children and young people.”
Further, in 2015 the UK government announced that it would outlaw “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. Later that year, Glastonbury festival organisers also banned the substance. This decision came after two tonnes of empty nitrous oxide canisters were gathered from the festival the previous year.