Ban on 'dangerous' laughing gas comes into force

Laughing gas canisters.
Credit: PA

Possession of laughing gas with the intent of getting high has been made illegal, with repeat offenders facing up to two years in jail.

Dealers who peddle nitrous oxide – nicknamed "hippy crack" – could face up to 14 years behind bars.

The ban, promised as part of the government’s anti-social behaviour action plan, makes nitrous oxide a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

What is laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas kept in metal cannisters. It has several commercial uses, such as managing pain and anxiety during dental treatment, and as a propellant for whipped cream.

It's also got psychoactive properties, meaning users get a "high" feeling for a short few seconds when it is inhaled.

When does the ban come into force?

It is already against the law to produce or supply laughing gas for recreational use, but the new law will make possessing it illegal from Wednesday November 8 onwards.

The ban will put it into the same category as benzodiazepines, known as 'benzos', which include valium.

This means possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect, is now an offence.

Discarded canisters of nitrous oxide - a popular legal high known as 'laughing gas'. Credit: PA

Consequences could include an unlimited fine, community sentences or, for repeat serious offenders, a prison term.

But it will still be possible to use the gas for legitimate reasons, such as catering, pain relief during labour or in model rockets.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of the gas and not intending to wrongfully inhale it.

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: "Today we are sending a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to their health, but it is also illegal and those caught possessing it will face consequences."

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