ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker travelled to Amsterdam, where concerning stories and statistics have led to a laughing gas ban
He was once known as Amsterdam’s laughing gas king. Deniz Uresin was a prolific street seller of the popular party drug, at one point selling thousands of balloons every weekend, often to teenagers and even offering a door-step delivery service.
At the same time he was heavily addicted to it himself, inhaling up to 200 balloons a day, until one day he ended up in hospital.
“I was using so much gas and bad stuff I could hardly walk, I had so much pain in my body but I was still craving the gas. I was addicted,” he said.
“I had all the time heart palpitations. In the long term, I released it wasn’t just an innocent bit of fun. It was a really bad time.”
Laughing gas, nitrous oxide, hippy crack or nos, as it’s also known, is inhaled through balloons to get high and sold in small silver canisters.
In January, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to ban it due to the growing health threat; it’s illegal to buy, sell or possess the gas, with a few exceptions for food or medical use.
UK doctor David Nichols shows ITV News the size of a canister he found outside a Birmingham nightclub
Amsterdam-based cardiologist Robert Riezebos is seeing more people in their twenties suffering from heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and nerve damage.
“The worst case we have seen was a girl who had to have her leg amputated. Her artery was closed in her leg. She came to hospital too late because she didn’t feel pain as laughing gas is anaesthetic.
"The leg had a severe infection and it could not be saved. She lost a leg due to laughing gas,” Dr Riezebos told ITV News.
Dutch doctor Robert Riezebos explains how laughing gas can 'change the course of your life dramatically'
These health concerns are being mirrored back in the UK. Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist in Birmingham, is on a mission to stop the use of laughing gas in the UK as a recreational drug.
“Kids are now switching to bigger cylinders now and I find it terrifying. It’s just endemic,” he said.
“There’s nothing worse I see than a young person with long term disabilities when it is completely avoidable. This was a neurological rarity five or six years ago, and now it’s common as muck, and that is just such a tragedy. People we see leave hospital in wheelchairs or need help walking,” Dr Nicholl said.
Dr Nicholl has now taken to TikTok to warn young people that heavy use could leave them suffering life changing injuries.
Physiotherapist Francine Sehmbi describes working with patients who are dealing with complications from laughing gas use
After cannabis, nitrous oxide is the most commonly misused substance among 16 to 24 year olds in England. At least 36 deaths have been linked to the gas in Britain.
Nitrous Oxide was first used as an anaesthetic in 1844. Today, it is still used as a pain reliever by doctors and also by chefs in the manufacture of whipped cream.
Sales of the gas for human consumption have been illegal in the UK since 2016, but it’s not against the law to possess it. Emma Cain has been campaigning for a full ban on the sale of all combustible gases after her son died.
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Jon Cain was just 17 when he suffered a massive heart attack after breathing in lighter gas.
Ms Cain told ITV News: “He was overdoing it, taking in quite big amounts in one go and collapsed and later died in hospital.
"It broke me to the point that I tried to take my own life shortly after. I felt like a failure as a mother.”
Emma Cain says her son's death from a heart attack 'destroyed' her
Ms Cain now patrols Southend promenade warning teenagers of the dangers, on one occasion even taking her son’s ashes with her to shock young people into changing their behaviour.
An ITV News investigation has revealed just how easy it is to buy the drug online; there are hundreds of sellers offering next day deliveries within hours to residential addresses. Some do have age warnings, but there are no proper ID checks.
Back in the Netherlands, and Amsterdam has long been a magnet for tourists wanting to take cannabis; but given its tolerant approach to recreational drugs, this ban shows how concerned they are about the health risks of laughing gas.
The Minister for Health Maarten van Ooijen, the politician who helped to bring in the Dutch ban, said it was the age of those inhaling the drug that prompted their hard-line approach, some as young as 12.
It’s not just the health risks, but there has been a steep rise in road traffic accidents too as drug-driving became a major issue on the city’s roads.
ITV News' Sarah Corker demonstrates how easy it is for youngsters to buy laughing gas online
Superintendent Paul Broer, National Project leader Road and Traffic Policing, said they’ve seen more than 2000 accidents in the last three years where laughing gas has been involved, some have been fatal.
“Actually we’ve seen drivers having a balloon in front of their face and actually inhaling the laughing gas while behind the wheel.
“Or even drivers filling up or re-filling their balloons while driving, there is a tank next to the driver’s seat. It’s incredibly dangerous,” he said.
Around 20 people die every year in the Netherlands due to laughing gas-related incidents on the roads.
Across Europe other governments are carrying out their own reviews of the drug’s use as its popularity continues to surge.
The UK government is considering a ban on the sale and use of the drug as soon as this summer; those in possession could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine and those supplying the drug facing a maximum 14-year sentence.
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