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This party drug is more dangerous than cocaine: doctor

"The stuff bought on the street is pure nitrous oxide and not safe for human consumption."

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Youths suck on balloons at a music festival, a common sign of people using nitrous oxide. (Photo via SWNS)

By Amy Reast via SWNS

A neurologist says nitrous oxide known as whippets is "more dangerous than cocaine" - and some kids are taking 150 canisters a day.

The substance - commonly known whippets or laughing gas - is a commonly used drug among 16-24-year-olds. In 2020, 6% of 8th graders, roughly 3% of 10th graders, and approximately 2% of 12 graders surveyed reported using inhalants in the last 12 months, according to American Addiction Centers.

Dr. David Nicholl, consultant neurologist and clinical lead at City Hospital in Birmingham, UK, says he now sees more patients struggling with side effects of whippets than cocaine abuse.

He said the volume of youngsters taking the substance has rocketed since the pandemic.

Nitrous oxide, which is sold in single-use silver canisters, is dispensed into balloons and inhaled to create a temporary feeling of relaxation and euphoria.

Heavy regular use can lead to a range of side effects which include dizziness, weakness in the legs and impaired memory.

Discarded nitrous oxide canisters. (Photo via SWNS)

Dr. Nicholl said: “I’ve been a neurologist for 21 years and have seen a definite change in how it's being used, since the pandemic.

“Compared to before, now the volumes of nitrous oxide being consumed can be quite terrifying – up to 150 cylinders per day."

“It's perceived as safe – and terms like ‘laughing gas’ are especially unhelpful because it makes it sound trivial.

"But the stuff bought on the street is pure nitrous oxide and not safe for human consumption.

“It is not the same substance used in hospitals, and it is toxic.”

He supports the recent decision from the UK's drug advisory panel not to ban the drug following talks.

But he says a different approach needs to be taken to tackle the issue - targeting the supply at the source.

Dr. Nicholl explained it is easily accessible through places like corner shops and on social media – where sellers target their audience of 16-24-year-olds.

He said street sellers are getting savvier about their sales – to the point that it resembles an “organized crime group."

“You’ve got to, in one way, take your hat off for the guys selling," he said.

“They’re marketing on social media, and they know exactly what they’re doing."

He added: “They even have QR codes printed on the side to go buy more – that's how easy it is to access.

"No wonder it’s so common.”

Similarly, when sold in these local convenience stores, it is “as easy to buy as a loaf of bread."

Dr. David Nicholl says he now sees more patients struggling with the side effects of whippets than cocaine abuse. (Photo via SWNS)

Dr. Nicholl said: “I go to the chemist and I can’t buy 200 paracetamol tablets.

"So, why are we having corner shops selling 600g cylinders?”

A big problem, Dr. Nicholl explained, is that it can be sold legally – if it is going to be used for whipping cream, such as in cafes and restaurants.

But when it becomes available for the wrong purposes, it can have disastrous consequences – and Dr. Nicholl sees this all too often.

“There is existing legislation to attack the supply chain but people can say ‘I’m getting it for whipping cream’,” he said.

“Although - I’ve yet to find an actual chef who uses it for that purpose."

He considers nitrous oxide “a bigger health risk than cocaine” at the moment due to how prevalent it is.

Dr. Nicholl said: “I have a patient every few years because of cocaine, but one every week due to nitrous oxide."

A recent study by the research agency OnePoll found 50 percent of UK people are unaware that whippets can cause serious health problems such as nerve damage or - in extreme cases - paralysis.

Despite this, roughly 40 percent of users said they had suffered the side-effects such as anemia, cognitive impairment and chronic headaches.

Dr. Nicholl believes the best approach to curbing nitrous oxide use is through education and targeting the supply chain.

“A ban is the wrong approach," he said.

"In what way are we solving the problem by criminalizing a 16-year-old with a couple of whippets and a balloon on the street?

“All we would do is drive it underground.

“Restricted distribution is what’s recommended - what we need to do is target the supply chain, but you do still need a caveat for some kind of legitimate use.

“And we should be focusing on education so people are more aware of how dangerous it is when sold and used recreationally.”

Discarded nitrous oxide canisters, known as laughing gas or whippets. (Photo via SWNS)

Dr. Nicholl believes the solution is for police to use existing legislation to target those responsible.

Last week saw a British man, Ansil Mahmood, 46, given a 12-month suspended jail term for selling nitrous oxide.

But with cases like that in the minority, Dr. Nicholl feels change is urgently needed.

He added: "It mystifies me that there haven't been more arrests when you see sellers everywhere.

"It comes back to the loophole that it's for baking.

"But when you're handed a balloon on your way out the door, it's not for baking, is it?"

Ever since the UK's Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect on 26 May 2016 it has been illegal to supply or import nitrous oxide for human consumption.

The substance is often found littering the streets, particularly in student populous areas.

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