THE sale of hippy crack should be banned outright in the UK, the trade body representing the makers of the gas has said.
The British Compressed Gases Association says 500,000 people aged between 16 and 24 took to nitrous oxide – commonly known as laughing gas – last year.
That makes it the second most used substance among that age group after cannabis.
There has been a jump in the number of canisters of nitrous oxide strewn across parks and public areas since the outbreak of coronavirus.
Many have been found dumped along with empty bottles of booze following illegal raves during lockdown.
Nitrous oxide can damage the central nervous system, cause paralysis and can be fatal.
The association’s study said that just over one-in-ten of substance-related deaths mentioned nitrogen or nitrous oxide on the death certificate.
Ellen Daniels, chief executive of the association, has now written to the home secretary calling for a ban on sales.
Her call comes as the issue has been taken up by MPs, with Labour's Rosie Duffield urging ministers to ban the sale of dangerous nitrous oxide to under-25s to tackle the deadly scourge.
She said bored teens are playing “Russian roulette” with their lives by taking up to 20 hits of hippy crack a day.
The Canterbury MP warned: “Kids don’t know what they are doing, they think it is harmless.
“But it’s like Russian roulette – you could be the person who loses their life.
“The police say kids are taking up to 20 a day, to keep feeling that high. But this is more dangerous than most people realise.”
Ms Duffield, urged No10 to toughen up the law.
“I am worried about more and more unexplained deaths.
"It is so readily available and so cheap the danger is we just dismiss it as a socially acceptable legal high. And it isn’t."
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas or hippy crack, has been used as an anaesthetic for many years.
It was banned as a recreational drug in 2016, but is easily available to buy online as it is used to whip up cream and make 99 ice creams.
A pack of ten canisters is listed on Amazon for £6.
The Royal College of Nursing warned it can cause choking or tightness in the chest, nausea or vomiting and a dangerously high heart rate.
Regular users can suffer pain, numbness and long-term coordination issues, while a large dose starves the body and brain of oxygen.
Last week, leading pharmaceutical professionals, in an article on the British Medical Journal website, said it was "no laughing matter".
Co-author Luigi Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: "People think it is laughing gas, so it must be safe. A lot of parents do not understand these things are dangerous."
Five people died in 2017 with nitrous oxide listed on the death certificate, according to the ONS, compared with 1,337 deaths relating to heroin and morphine and 637 relating to cocaine.
'NO LAUGHING MATTER'
As lockdown has eased, parks and beaches across Britain have been strewn with the silver capsules and balloons used to inhale the drug.
Discarded canisters were found on Clapham Common after hundreds of revellers descended on the area for a late-night illegal rave on Saturday night in what was believed to be an unofficial Pride party.
In Bournemouth – where a major incident was declared on Thursday after up to half a million people flocked to the area – hundreds of Brits were pictured inhaling nitrous-oxide balloons.
In 2018, Olivia Golding, then 24 and a mum-of-one from Bristol, was confined to a wheelchair for over a month after inhaling “hippy crack”.
She said at the time: “I can tell you it is not worth that ten-second high. This whole thing has left me devastated.”
North Yorkshire Police officers have reported seeing an increase in the cannisters whilst patrolling the county, as have cops from Northumbria Police.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government made it illegal to supply nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects, with offenders facing a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
“We’re giving police forces the resources they need to do their vital work, and we have also introduced public space protection orders so local authorities have tighter control over the consumption of these substances in public spaces.”
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