The Government has scrapped plans to outlaw so-called 'laughing gas', following a review by experts.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluded that additional measures did need to be implemented to tackle the supply of nitrous oxide but did not recommend banning the use of it.
Chair of the ACMD, Professor Owen Bowden-Jones said: ‘Nitrous oxide remains a widely used drug in the UK. While the number of deaths related to nitrous oxide remains low compared to other drugs, there is evidence of increasing neurological harms in people who use nitrous oxide in a persistent and heavy way and also reports of increasing social harms such as littering of canisters and driving under the influence.’
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A list of seven recommendations were made by the council to tackle these emerging harms including restricting availability, educating people who use nitrous oxide of the harms and giving local authorities and police proportionate powers to remove, confiscate and dispose of it.
Professor Roger Knaggs, chair of the ACMD nitrous oxide working group said: ‘Whilst nitrous oxide has been used for its euphoric effects for many years, there has been an increasing number of cases of nerve and spinal cord damage. This may be associated with the increasing availability and visibility of larger canister sizes particularly over recent months. There have also increasing concerns regarding littering in public places. It is important to act now to reduce these harms.
‘The widescale recommendations made by the ACMD today aim to address these harms and public concerns, whilst continuing to permit legitimate uses including in the healthcare, food and chemical industries.’
The review suggested that nitrous oxide should still remain under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 but that the additional measures listed above should be implemented to alert people to the risks of it.
However, the council said current evidence suggested that the health and social harms of nitrous oxide are not commensurate with control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.