Legal party drug: Experts fear rapid spread

Inhale and get high for a short time: Some people consider laughing gas to be a harmless party drug. Other countries are taking tougher action against the substance. What do addiction experts say?

You can use it to anesthetize patients, relieve pain or even foam cream. In recent years, laughing gas has also become known as a party drug.

A Berlin addiction prevention expert fears that consumption will become more widespread in the future, especially among minors.

“This is a pretty hyped topic right now,” says Marc Pestotnik, a consultant at the Berlin Center for Addiction Prevention. “What concerns us is the protection of minors.” Even if you are not yet of legal age, you can get nitrous oxide relatively easily in this country, for example via the Internet, says Pestotnik.

The supposedly low-risk substance is also available in some kiosks. It is inhaled from balloons and results in a high that lasts a few minutes. The “trend” is also going around in Cologne, read more about it here.

It does not fall under the Narcotics Act. “There are even different flavors and advertising aimed at nitrous oxide parties,” says Pestotnik. This actually needs to be limited. “It’s not cool, it doesn’t have to be any more attractive.”

Regulation in other countries

The substance is set to be banned as a drug in Great Britain by the end of the year. If in doubt, unauthorized possession could result in up to two years in prison. The Netherlands has already banned the possession and sale of nitrous oxide with certain exceptions, and Denmark has also issued stricter regulations. And in Paris, minors were banned from carrying or consuming laughing gas in parts of the city over the summer.

According to Pestotnik, if you inhale the slightly sweet-tasting nitrous oxide, a certain amount of dizziness can follow, and hallucinations, cheerfulness, euphoria and better empathy can also be felt. How often laughing gas is consumed in Berlin for the short high and by which groups has not yet been investigated.

There is no data, says Pestotnik. The department has already been asked by districts for posters on the topic and has experience from events at schools. “So far there have been fewer inquiries from students about nitrous oxide than we would have expected.” But there have already been challenges on social media, i.e. tests of courage that could promote consumption.

Risks of Nitrous Oxide

“Given our observations so far, I don’t see any bans here,” says Pestotnik. But you have to look at what experiences other countries have. Pestotnik is less worried about the addictive potential of laughing gas – it is not huge if consumed occasionally. “But consuming nitrous oxide can have severe physical consequences such as nerve damage and life-threatening oxygen deficiency if a lot is consumed in a row.”

And you have to stop taking it, especially in young people, because laughing gas can influence brain development that is not yet complete. Accidents caused by an unsuitable place of intake are also a risk. “Ultimately, you have to approach this with prevention, provide information and strengthen risk skills so that people can make conscious consumption decisions.”

A website run by Berlin drug counselors about reducing the risk of drug use also warns that laughing gas can increase the effects of other substances. If you mix it with ketamine, the risk of nerve damage increases.

If you inhale the substance, you should take a breath every now and then, put the balloon down several times and not inhale large amounts of pure nitrous oxide. If you experience numbness in your fingers, you should see a doctor as this could be the first sign of nerve damage. Finally it says: “There is no such thing as risk-free consumption.”

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