Student who took two to three 'big bottles' of laughing gas daily may have died from long-term use

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Ellen Mercer (pictured) may have been killed as a result of long-term use of laughing gas, an inquest into her death heard. Credit:

A 24-year-old student may have died as a result of long-term use of laughing gas after inhaling two to three "big bottles" of the substance every day, an inquest heard.

Ellen Mercer, from Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, was taken to hospital by the emergency services in the early hours of February 9 last year after she was reportedly left unable to walk and falling over when she tried, Berkshire coroner’s court heard.

She was treated by medical staff at Wexham Park Hospital Emergency Department, but she died around 24 hours later at 12.52am on February 10.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor told the inquest that “part of her cause of death” related to “nitrous oxide gas”, also known as laughing gas.

The inquest heard a post-mortem report found Ms Mercer’s death was caused by bilateral pulmonary thromboembolism, deep vein thrombosis, and “long-term complications of nitrous oxide use”.

Ellen Mercer sadly died in February 2023, aged just 24. Credit:

Michaela Kirtley, an emergency medical technician from Phoenix Response Services, a contractor who worked for South Central Ambulance Service, attended Ms Mercer’s home on February 8.

When she arrived at the scene, she was shown to the bedroom by Ms Mercer’s boyfriend.

“I took notice of the room,” she said.

“There were no sheets on the bed at all. There was just the duvet, severely stained. The room was bare.”

She said the scene made it clear to her that she was dealing with a “vulnerable person”.

She said Ms Mercer “was talking as normal”, and the only one of her vital signs that was outside the normal range was her heart rate, which could have been due to anxiety.

Ms Mercer told her that she had burned her legs after spilling a gas canister on them and that she had been unable to walk or go to the toilet for two weeks, she said.

She said the 24-year-old looked as if she were six months pregnant.

Nitrous Oxide canisters - measuring 640g - seized by Essex Police in July 2022 (unrelated to Ellen Mercer) Credit: Essex Police

She checked the wounds on Ms Mercer’s legs, which she described as “pussy”.

Ms Mercer’s boyfriend showed her a box of gas canisters, which she identified as nitrous oxide.

“I had never seen such big bottles,” she said.

She told the inquest that the canisters were 600g and that Ms Mercer’s boyfriend said she took “two to three bottles” per day, but had slowed down in the last couple of weeks.

The inquest heard a post-mortem report found Ms Mercer’s death to have been caused by 'long-term complications of nitrous oxide use'. Credit: PA

Ms Mercer told her she had passed out and the bottle had fallen on her legs.

An ambulance then took Ms Mercer to hospital.

At the time of the student’s death, possession of laughing gas with the intent of getting high was not illegal.

It was banned by the government, and made a Class C drug, in November 2023.

The inquest continues.

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