On Friday, the Belgian Federal Council of Ministers will consider the final details of a Royal Decree to ban nitrous oxide, the so-called ‘laughing gas’. The product’s sale, import, possession, transport, and purchase will be prohibited unless it concerns a medical, technical, or nutritional application.
Nitrous oxide has become a popular drug among young people. It gives users a buzz similar to that of alcohol, so it is dangerous and to be avoided in traffic. The Royal Decree, therefore, is supported by the Minister for the Interior, Annelies Verlinden (CD&V), Minister of Mobility, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), and Minister of Health, Franks Van den Broucke (Vooruit).
Inhaling nitrous gas immediately creates a short-lived euphoric intoxication comparable to the effects of alcohol. Dizziness, nausea, disorientation in time and place, decreased responsiveness, and a general feeling of being drunk are common symptoms.
Nitrous oxide, like most drugs, is addictive and influences people’s brains. When used frequently, it can cause mood swings, depression, anemia, and damage to the nervous system. And the higher the dose, the more powerful the effects.
Combining the product with other narcotics (alcohol, sleeping pills, or tranquilizers) can have a severe influence on one’s driving abilities. One out of five youngsters admit to regularly combining driving, drinking, and drugs. Using drugs while driving is one of the top three causes of traffic deaths, together with distraction behind the wheel and excessive speed.
The Belgian traffic safety institute Vias and the Poison Control Center already pleaded for a complete ban on nitrous oxide, following the Dutch example.
However, the original use of nitrous oxide for medical or technical purposes (tire inflation) or as a food additive remains permitted. The gas is used in surgical procedures because of its numbing effect.
It is also legally allowed to be used as a food additive. For instance, it is often used in a siphon as a whipped cream dispenser. The gas pressure in the cartridges ensures that the liquid in the siphon comes out airy and nicely whipped.
In the meantime, several cities and municipalities have already taken measures because of the capsules on the streets. Capsules in trash risk exploding. Since March 5th, 2021, selling laughing gas capsules to minors has been prohibited.