Laughing gas could be banned from general sale and its possession could be criminalized unless someone has a “lawful reason” for having it, according to reports.
Ministers are believed to be considering the move as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour, The Times reported. After cannabis, laughing gas is the most widely used drug among 16-24 year olds in England.
There are concerns about health problems caused by its use, with cases where it has been linked to nerve damage, paralysis or death.
Only those with good reason to possess it would qualify for an exemption, such as chefs who use it in products such as whipped cream, or to freeze or refrigerate foods. The gas, nitrous oxide, is also used as a pain reliever during childbirth or dental work.
The law currently prohibits the knowing or reckless supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation. However, the British Compressed Gases Association (BCGA) wants a ban on all consumer sales.
A review is currently being carried out by the UK-wide Independent Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, which advises on drug policy. Police Minister Chris Philp is believed to want this to be fast-tracked until April because the government cannot act until its findings are published, according to the Times.
The review was requested by then Home Secretary Priti Patel in September 2021. A ban has already been approved in the Netherlands due to health fears.
It is believed that a formal announcement could be made as part of the government’s anti-social behavior strategy, which is due to be published in April. Legislation would probably be by the summer.
The popularity of gas with young people comes from its ease of access. It can slow brain and body responses, producing potential euphoria and fits of laughter. A number of celebrities have come under fire for being photographed using the drug, also known as “hippie crack”.
However, its side effects include weakness in the legs, dizziness and memory impairment. The deaths were caused by asphyxiation, where the body is deprived of oxygen.
Further control of the drug was considered by the advisory council in 2015, which decided that it should not be controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cited the problem in a New Year’s address on anti-social behavior. He said “nitrous oxide in children’s play areas…makes life miserable for so many people”.
Anti-social behavior is already part of Labor policy strategy, with the party believing the government has become weak on issues of crime and punishment.
Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, has previously said he does not support plans to soften the police approach to drug possession.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.