The UK government intends to outlaw the possession of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, in a contentious decision. So, Nitrous oxide: Laughing gas ban could harm users, experts warn.
Health experts, on the other hand, are concerned that such a restriction may cause more harm than good.
According to neurologists who have written to the government, the planned prohibition might deter users from obtaining essential medical care and further stigmatize them.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) also opposes the plan, arguing that the government’s approach should be education rather than prosecution.
“Nitrous oxide, while recreationally popular among young adults, does have medical applications, such as pain relief during childbirth,” explains Dr. Jane Williams, a neurologist who opposes the ban. “Blanket criminalization not only goes against the ACMD’s advice but could also lead to unintended health risks.”
Indeed, nitrous oxide misuse is known to cause nerve-related symptoms and can impact vitamin B12 metabolism. Critics argue that the ban could push users underground, preventing them from seeking help for potential health issues. “There’s already a stigma surrounding substance misuse. This will just amplify it, making individuals less likely to seek medical attention,” Dr. Williams adds.
Despite these concerns, the government appears steadfast in its decision, viewing the ban as a crucial part of its wider anti-social behavior action plan. Labour supports this move, citing concerns over littering and public offenses. However, even the Psychoactive Substances Act’s validity has been questioned following the collapse of two nitrous oxide cases.
A grassroots organization is in favor of the ban but emphasizes that the police face challenges in implementing it. Katherine Bramwell, a mother whose son struggled with nitrous oxide addiction, has spoken out. Revealing the psychological hurdles he had to overcome. “It’s a complex issue that needs a nuanced approach, not a ban that could harm more than help.”
As the government moves forward with its plans, consultation with experts and the public is underway. While the proposal may make possession criminal by up to two years in jail. Many worry that the prohibition will worsen rather than alleviate the problem.
Experts worry that the government’s present course might have long-term consequences for public health.
While the legal position of nitrous oxide is still being debated. There is a rising chorus of voices asking for a more nuanced and educated approach to its regulation.