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The rising problem of ‘happy gas’ in Australia

The rising problem of ‘happy gas’ in Australia

The rising problem of ‘happy gas’ in Australia

The number of people using nitrous oxide, or “nangs” is on the rise despite the harmful effects of the gas becoming well known.

Also known as “happy gas”, the gas has been used as an anaesthetic in medical setting for more than 100 years however it is now being misused as a recreational drug, to disastrous effect. Side-effects range from vomiting and fainting to brain damage, nerve damage, hypoxia and sudden death from lack of oxygen. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation report that long-term effects can also include memory loss, incontinence, depression, ringing in the ears and limb spasms.

Easily accessible, nitrous oxide is available in canisters sold for purposes such as whipping cream from supermarkets and convenient stores. When inhaling directly from canisters the gas is intensely cold (-40C degrees) and can cause frostbite to the nose, lips and throat. As the gas is also under constant pressure, it can cause ruptures in lung tissue when inhaled directly from these containers. Releasing the nitrous oxide into a balloon helps to warm the gas and normalise the pressure before inhaling. People can also harm themselves if they use faulty gas dispensers, which may explode.

New South Wales laws state that it is an offense for someone to supply or sell nitrous oxide to another knowing it is to be used for human consumption, however it is difficult to prove that it is being used for psychoactive effect. The maximum penalty is two years imprisonment.

According to the Global Drug Survey, nitrous oxide is the seventh-most popular drug in the world. An annual survey of a focus group of New South Wales drug users carried out by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) showed the use of nitrous oxide in the group jumped from 55 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent in 2018.

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