Laughing gas is dangerous hype
“The government should restrain the sales of nitrous oxide, the so-called ‘laughing gas.’ Youngsters inhale it to get high, and the phenomenon is becoming a real plague.”
These are the words of Pieter Debaets, CEO of the recreation domain De Ster in Sint-Niklaas (Belgium). “Three years ago, we found the first ampul, but in the meantime, the situation is getting out of hand. Especially now that we also find liter bottles to be shared in a group.”
Harmful for the brains
Last week, a 19-year-old driver got caught by the police in Mechelen-Willebroek. The man was inhaling the gas while driving. The mayor of Mechelen immediately reacted with an extension of the police regulation. Selling or using laughing gas now is fined with a municipal administrative fine of 350 euro.
Nitrous oxide makes people high, and that can be dangerous in traffic. It also causes coordination problems and a slower quickness of reaction. Earlier, toxicologist Jan Tytgat warned for a shortage of oxygen in the brains or freezing wounds in the mouth. In the long term, the gas could even harm the nervous system.
The problem is known in the Netherlands as well. In 2015, the National Center for Information and Intoxication (Nationaal Vergiftigingen Informatie Centrum) received 13 reports, last year there were 54, and in the first half of 2019, already 67 cases were mentioned.
In the Belgian Anti-Poison Center, the frequency of reports stagnates, but emergency doctors in large hospitals confirm the trend.
Danger of explosion
“The ampuls can be dangerous, all the more because there is a risk of explosion, with serious burns as a consequence,” explains Marijs Geirnaert of the Flemish Expertise Center for Alcohol and other Drugs (VAD).
But still, the laughing gas is no priority for the VAD. “Because we know the phenomenon is coming and going. It’s not a real hype. Most of the time, it’s only a group of youngsters experimenting with a cheap and legal product.”
VAD, however, has created an index for teachers and local authorities, with tips on how to cope with the problem. “Because the use of laughing gas can cause troubles,” confirms Geirnaert.