Man who almost died from laughing gas addiction says Birmingham has epidemic of youngsters hooked

A former laughing gas addict from Birmingham speaks anonymously to ITV Central's Rosie Dowsing about the impact it had on his life.

A man from Birmingham who nearly died from his addiction to nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas - says people do not realise just how bad the problem is.

The former addict has shared his story anonymously in the hope it will prevent others from going near laughing gas, which is the second most popular drug in the country among youngsters.

At his worst point, he got through over 900 canisters of the gas in just one sitting, and doctors were surprised he survived.

'Adam', which is not his real name, said: "It was the worst time of my life - I didn't wanna mix with the world, I didn't wanna mix with family.

"You lose everything, you actually lose everything"

The addiction got so impossible to overcome, that Adam had to move abroad for a year to a country where laughing gas is not so readily available.

Now living a healthier lifestyle back in Birmingham, Adam says the problem is getting worse.

"Someone who I'm very very close to is going through the same thing at the moment. He just can't get out of it," he said.

"I know a couple of people who've had accidents while doing balloons behind the wheel. I know someone who is actually paralysed at the moment.

"I know a couple of people going through the awful depression stages of it, which I also had."

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

Nitrous oxide comes in a number of different vessels, with the most common one being small metal gas canisters that have a single use and often end up littered on the floor.

But the substance is also sold in large canisters, mainly used in catering services to whip cream.

Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, says there has been a dramatic rise in the amount of youngsters needing emergency care for paralysis and nerve damage.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I was starting to see a case ever couple of months or so," he said.

"But literally every week, I'm seeing cases like this now."

The long term effects of nitrous oxide inhalation are relatively unknown, but Dr Nicholl says he believes the reason behind such a rise in cases is due to a franchise of shops in Birmingham now selling canisters to youngsters.

He added: "It's really devastating to see such young people suffering completely avoidable neurological harm."

'I was half paralysed'

The side effects of inhaling nitrous oxide are ones Adam knows all too well.

"I was half paralysed. My family had to carry me to the toilet when I needed to go," he recalled.

"If I were to stand up my spine would shake. You're constantly going to the toilet. Constantly vomiting.

"And what it does to your mind - one minute you're happy, one minute you're angry. One minute you might be crying."

At the peak of Adam's addiction, he consumed 960 canisters in one sitting, and had to be admitted to hospital.

He said: "At its worst stage there was a point where I think in 24 hours I had done over 40 boxes, and there are 24 canisters in a box.

"I had disappeared in my car, but my friends found me and took me to hospital.

"The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive. They did not understand how my oxygen levels were still fine. But I couldn't walk, I couldn't move."

Adam wants people to know there is help out there for people struggling with the addiction.

One Muslim charity in Birmingham called Dawat-e-Islami has made it their mission to educate young people about the drug.

Speaking on behalf of the charity, Muhammad Wasim said: "We've conducted various workshops where many young people have attended.

"But also we have raised awareness among parents who did not know what it was, they had just seen the canisters lying on the ground."

Despite losing his savings and almost his life, Adam now lives healthily and free from addiction.

His message to those who think laughing gas is just a bit of fun is: "Don't do it. Zero percent. Just don't. Not even for a bit.

"If a family member is concerned about someone, they NEED to act upon it before it gets to a stage where they cannot stop. It can do serious damage."

In a statement West Midlands Police told ITV News Central: "We'd always encourage the public to make us aware of potential illegal activity so we can work to address this working alongside our partners. Information is crucial as it not only allows us to act at the time but also build up a wider picture of what is happening.

"Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas as its commonly called, is considered to be a psychoactive substance. A person can be arrested and charged if they are found in possession of canisters with the intention to supply it to others; knowing they may use it as psychoactive substance. However, it is not an offence to possess it only.

"There is no safe use of a psychoactive substance and there are risks to health and wellbeing, as well as leaving yourself open to arrest if you seek to supply others."

Is nitrous oxide legal?

Buying canisters of nitrous oxide is not illegal, nor is selling it – as long as the retailer is not selling it for recreational purposes.

Anyone selling the gas for its psychoactive effects face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The buyer, however, is not breaking the law by inhaling nitrous oxide.

Policing minister Chris Philp is reportedly pushing for an ongoing review of nitrous oxide by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to be fast-tracked to April, with suggestions that a formal announcement on a ban could be made as part of the government’s antisocial behaviour strategy due later this year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed the issue in his new year’s speech in January, hitting out at antisocial behaviour and highlighting the blight of discarded “nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Antisocial behaviour causes misery in communities and we are determined to crack down on this scourge to protect our streets. 

“Nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly-used drug among 16-24-year-olds in England and can have damaging side effects.

“We have been clear we want to see common sense policing to keep our communities safe. That is why we are actively considering a ban on the sale and use of this harmful drug and will ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to hasten their delivery of the report we commissioned, which we will carefully consider in reaching any decision.”

Help and advice for those struggling with addiction:

  • Talk to Frank. Helpline:  0300 123 6600. Offers free confidential drugs information and advice 24 hours a day.

  • NHS. Find advice on drug addiction here.

  • DrugFAM. Helpline: 0300 888 3853. Supports families affected by a loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol.

  • Release. Helpline: 020 7324 2989. Provides a range of services dedicated to meeting the health, welfare and legal needs of drugs users and those who live and work with them.

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