Report stops short of recommending laughing gas ban

A review commissioned by the Government to examine the harms of laughing gas has stopped short of recommending a ban on the substance.

The independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was asked by the Home Office in 2021 to provide advice on whether to make possession of nitrous oxide a crime.

Ministers were earlier this year considering a ban on both the sale and possession of laughing gas, as part of a bid to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Notting Hill Carnival death
Nitrous oxide gas canisters on a street in west London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Under the proposals, drug misuse laws could be updated to allow people found with nitrous oxide gas in public to be prosecuted, The Times reported.

But in an assessment published on Monday, the ACMD said the substance “should not be subjected to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”.

It concluded that the sanctions for offences under the act would be disproportionate with the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide and that such control could create “significant burdens” for legitimate uses of the substance.

Examples of legitimate use cited in the report include as an anaesthetic in medical and dental contexts and as a gas for whipped cream in cooking.

Non-legitimate use of nitrous oxide is currently controlled under the
Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which the council said “remains the appropriate legislation”.

This means the production, supply and importation of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects is illegal, but not possession.

The Home Office has said it will consider the conclusions of the report.

Other recommendations listed include for Government departments to consider providing additional powers for police to curb use, such as confiscating canisters or paraphernalia.

It suggest pursuing “universal prevention activity” focused on nitrous oxide – such as education resources for young people and schools, a national campaign reporting the health risks of heavy use and information made available in settings where use is more common, such as festivals.

Interventions should also include tackling non-legitimate supply of the drug, for example by restricting direct-to-consumer sales and closing down websites selling the substance for non-legitimate uses, it says.

“No single recommendation on its own is likely to be sufficient to successfully reduce the harms associated with nitrous oxide use,” the report concludes.

The Prime Minister addressed the issue of laughing gas use in his new year speech, criticising antisocial behaviour and highlighting the blight of discarded “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.

The Government said it commissioned the report following what it described as a “concerning” rise in use among young people, with the substance the second most-used drug among UK 16 to 24-year-olds.

Officials had urged the panel to speed up the delivery of its report on the issue.

A Home Office spokesman said: “This Government is working to crack down on drug misuse in our communities, that is why we asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide updated advice on nitrous oxide.

“We thank them for their report, which we will now consider.”