Nitrous oxide could also be dangerous for ‘heavy customers’ in accordance with new assessment


Nitrous oxide (extra generally often known as laughing gasoline) is a extensively used drug within the UK and lots of different European nations. This colourless, candy tasting gasoline has been used for over 100 years recreationally and in medication as an anaesthetic and for ache.

Nitrous oxide is straightforward to acquire and comparatively inexpensive, assembly the 2 drivers of drug use – worth and availability. The brief appearing results embrace euphoria, heightened senses and a slight feeling of disconnect from the physique. It’s inhaled utilizing balloons or small canisters known as ‘whippets’.

The drug is utilized by folks of all ages, however younger folks make up most of these reporting use. Amongst 16-59 12 months olds, 1.3% reported utilizing nitrous oxide in contrast with 3.9% to 16-24 12 months olds. As with all details about drug use it’s troublesome to be exact in regards to the numbers of individuals utilizing nitrous oxide and the way regularly they use it. We all know that some folks will naturally be reserved about admitting to utilizing a drug; fearing they are going to be stigmatised and/or get into hassle.

As with all medicine, there are some dangers related to nitrous oxide use. It’s these dangers which have prompted intensive media consideration during the last 12 months. The UK authorities has responded to issues from some clinicians in regards to the potential harms from utilizing nitrous oxide by updating laws that makes possession of the drug a category C offence.

Use and provide of nitrous oxide was already restricted beneath the Psychoactive Substances Act, a subject coated by fellow Elf Professor Harry Sumnall in a earlier Psychological Elf weblog.

Though a lot of the media consideration has centred on the dangers to well being corresponding to neurological injury, there was little dialogue in regards to the potential for habit following use. So, a latest assessment exploring this side by Again and colleagues (2023) is well timed.

Nitrous oxide is easy to obtain and relatively affordable, meeting the two drivers of drug use – price and availability, but is it harmful for people who use it recreationally?

Nitrous oxide is straightforward to acquire and comparatively inexpensive, assembly the 2 drivers of drug use – worth and availability, however is it dangerous for individuals who use it recreationally?


The authors performed a literature assessment of research that investigated leisure use of nitrous oxide reasonably than medical use. Nitrous oxide has been used medically as an anaesthetic for over 100 years.

This assessment of the out there literature aimed to get details about how addictive the substance is when utilizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Handbook model 5 (DSM-5) standards. This consists of eleven objects corresponding to tolerance to a drug, craving and withdrawal signs. DSM standards are extensively utilized in analysis and by clinicians to evaluate people and their use of a drug or medicine to determine whether or not there’s a downside.

The authors included each human and animal research of their literature search.


Having reviewed the literature and cross checking with the DSM-5 standards the authors concluded that nitrous oxide use did meet 4 of the eleven DSM-5 standards for habit. The 4 have been:

  • Criterion 1 – utilizing extra of the drug than meant.
  • Criterion 3 – spending a considerable period of time utilizing the drug.
  • Criterion 6 – experiencing social or interpersonal issues.
  • Criterion 8 – doubtlessly bodily hazardous use.

You will need to level out that each one of those have been for these utilizing nitrous oxide closely, i.e. regularly and or at larger doses. Though heavy use is just not exactly outlined by the authors, they do point out that lower than 3% of these utilizing the drug accomplish that a minimum of as soon as every week, with the ‘heaviest’ customers inhaling 10 or extra photographs a day.

According to this review, heavy users of nitrous oxide may meet some of the DSM-5 criteria for addiction.

In response to this assessment, heavy customers of nitrous oxide might meet a few of the DSM-5 standards for habit.


The recognition of nitrous oxide has grown lately as demonstrated by the empty canisters that litter many streets throughout the UK. The drug is usually perceived to be innocent or a minimum of low danger, barring the rarer circumstances of neurological injury that some folks have skilled, nevertheless its potential for habit is just not effectively understood. This examine makes that side the main target of its investigation.

The authors assert that based mostly on their findings nitrous oxide must be thought-about to be addictive for these utilizing the drug closely because it meets 4 out of the eleven DSM-5 standards. Though they do say that there are limitations with the research they reviewed and included.

Interested by the place nitrous oxide suits into the hierarchy of drug hurt, it’s nonetheless one of many least dangerous of all of the extensively used leisure medicine. The one sure-fire technique to keep away from hurt from medicine is to not use them within the first place, however that’s not an efficient or real looking strategy, regardless of successive governments basing their drug insurance policies and messaging on that flawed thought.

The popularity of nitrous oxide has grown in recent years, but its potential for addiction is still not well understood.

The recognition of nitrous oxide has grown lately, however its potential for habit remains to be not effectively understood.

Strengths and limitations

The authors are a little bit extra candid in regards to the limitations of the research they discovered than in regards to the issues with their very own examine. There isn’t a point out or rational for why they selected to conduct a literature search reasonably than a scientific assessment. The latter technique is a extra dependable and in-depth method of investigating the proof.

As talked about some key elements of their examine will not be clearly outlined corresponding to what precisely is a ‘heavy’ person of nitrous oxide? Different vital particulars are lacking corresponding to inclusion and exclusion standards utilized by the authors of their search of the literature.

Additionally it is not useful to make use of the time period habit reasonably than bodily or psychological dependence. It could have been a little bit extra work, however would have produced a extra helpful article if the authors had adopted this terminology and explored the subject on this extra exact method.

There are various limitations to the research included on this article which the authors describe. These embrace the strategies and sampling. For instance, some research have been based mostly on rats and lots of the research have been qualitative, or case based mostly. The authors rightly argue that bigger cohort research are wanted to attempt to reply the query in regards to the potential for dependence with nitrous oxide.

On a extra optimistic word, this text is well timed and helps elevate consciousness of a side of nitrous oxide that has obtained inadequate consideration, specifically its dependency profile. Crucially the authors make the purpose in regards to the danger for hurt being higher for these utilizing the drug extra regularly and at larger doses.

Future research should focus on the physical or psychological dependence that nitrous oxide users may experience, rather than the less specific term - addiction.

Future analysis ought to give attention to the bodily or psychological dependence that nitrous oxide customers might expertise, reasonably than the much less particular time period – habit.

Implications for follow

Given the restrictions with the examine and the literature it’s based mostly on, it’s nonetheless not clear what the potential for habit is with this drug. This clearly limits the practitioner’s potential to advise anybody utilizing the drug that they encounter. This additionally restricts any public well being messaging or intervention looking for to scale back hurt given the restricted intelligence we have now to date in regards to the drug’s potential addictiveness.

Maybe the perfect we are able to say at current is that folks utilizing nitrous oxide most regularly and at larger doses are on the biggest danger of growing issues, whether or not these are bodily or psychological. Frequency and dose are each elements which might be markers for the potential hurt that many medicine trigger.

People using nitrous oxide most frequently and at higher doses are at the greatest risk of developing problems, whether these are physical or psychological.

Folks utilizing nitrous oxide most regularly and at larger doses are on the biggest danger of growing issues, whether or not these are bodily or psychological.

Assertion of pursuits

No conflicts of curiosity.


Main paper

Again, S., Kroon, E., Colyer‐Patel, Okay. and Cousijn, J. (2023). Does nitrous oxide habit exist? An analysis of the proof for the presence and prevalence of substance use dysfunction signs in leisure nitrous oxide customers. Dependancy

Different references

Hamilton, I. Sumnall,H. Nitrous Oxide: Suella Bravermans name to have the drug reclassified has been rejected by authorities advisors, 2023. The Dialog.

Sumnall,H. Hamilton,I. Monaghan,M. Novel Psychoactive Substances: vital info for well being professionals. The Psychological Elf, 3rd March 2017 – https://www.nationalelfservice.web/mental-health/substance-misuse/novel-psychoactive-substances-important-information-for-health-professionals/

UK Authorities, 2023. Nitrous Oxide: up to date harms evaluation

UK Dwelling Workplace, 2023. Nitrous Oxide ban: steering.


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