Government to outlaw sale of laughing gas in clampdown on legal highs

Nitrous oxide to be made illegal as part of new legislation

The sale of nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, is to be banned by the government as the clampdown on legal highs continues.

Home Office ministers are expected to announce a bill that will act as a blanket ban on all legal highs including nitrous oxide, the second most popular recreational drug in Britain according to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

The Guardian reports that more than 400,000 16- to 24-year-olds reporting taking nitrous oxide, referred to as “hippy crack” by the tabloid media, in the past 12 months. The drug has proven popular at music festivals to the extent that Glastonbury recently had to release a statement saying its use is “not welcome” in the stone circle area at this year’s festival.

Two tonnes of empty nitrous oxide canisters were picked up, by hand, at Glastonbury 2014 and organisers are keen to restore the stone circle to its original purpose.

The legislation will reportedly make it illegal to produce, distribute, sell or supply “new psychoactive substances”. Possession of legal highs, however, will not be a criminal offence under the new laws. The blanket ban on legal highs will not affect the legitimate uses of nitrous oxide includig its use as an anaesthetic and as a propellant in whipped cream aerosols.

Speaking about the new legislation, Home Office policing minister, Mike Penning, said: “Young people who take these substances are taking exceptional risks with their health, and those who profit from their sale have a complete disregard for the potential consequences. That’s why we are targeting the suppliers.

“The landmark bill will fundamentally change the way we tackle new psychoactive substances – and put an end to the game of cat and mouse in which new drugs appear on the market more quickly than the government can identify and ban them.”

However, in March the government’s official advisors said that deaths linked to nitrous oxide were rare and did not advise a ban on the substance.