11:02AM, Wednesday 29 May 2013
A warning has been issued by drug and alcohol experts about the dangers of 'laughing gas'.
Police say they are discovering a rising number of empty cartridges while reports of youngsters with canisters inhaling the gas from balloons is on the increase.
Users refer to the gas as ‘whippets’, ‘buzz bomb’, ‘shoot the breeze’ and ‘NOX’ and the 10cm high cartridges can be bought in bulk on the Internet for as little as 30p.
Chief Inspector Lee Townsend, deputy local police area commander, said the gas is often used at festivals, raves and usually inhaled from a balloon.
He said: "Nitrous oxide is used by the catering industry to whip cream and is generally known as laughing gas.
"It gives a high and a buzz, but can be dangerous.
"It can play havoc on the respiratory system and people can die from it as the larynx can close down and cause choking."
Inhaling nitrous oxide can in extreme cases kill and effects include a brief high or head rush lasting for about two minutes.
Others include giggling, dizziness, distorted sound, slurred speech, difficulty maintaining balance, and confused thinking.
Experts say choking occurs when N2O depletes the oxygen supply to the body because of too much inhalant in the lungs and if inhalation continues, the person will die.
Chf Insp Townsend added parents might not know what the cartridges are used for or be aware how dangerous they can be.
He added: "If we see them being misused we will look at seizing them for safety, and to assess the safeguarding of those involved.
"But education is the big thing for us.
"Anyone distributing them for unlawful purposes could be looking at other offences."
Laughing gas information sheets have been distributed to schools, youth clubs, community wardens and police community support officers.
Cllr David Coppinger, Royal Borough cabinet member with responsibility for DAAT, said use in the borough was 'very worrying'.
It is illegal in the UK for nitrous oxide to be sold to anyone under 18 and possession for non-inhalant purposes is legal for those over 18.