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Nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas, banned for recreational use in the UK – here’s everything you need to know as Suffolk and Essex Police respond

Clamping down on circulation of a newly-classified Class C drug will form part of police duties as a new ban comes into effect.

As of today, it is now illegal to recreationally use nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

Known for its ‘psychoactive effects’, possession of the substance without a good reason could land you up to two years in jail.

Nitrous oxide is now illegal to use recreationally -- and clamping down on its use will form part of the police's role. Picture: iStock
Nitrous oxide is now illegal to use recreationally -- and clamping down on its use will form part of the police's role. Picture: iStock

Police now have more powers to tackle its circulation and the anti-social behaviour linked with it.

A spokesman for Suffolk Police said tackling it will form part of continued policing duties to clamp down on use of illegal substances.

He added: “We will concentrate on prevention by working with partners to highlight the dangers of using nitrous oxide illegally and enforcing the new legislation appropriately.”

Under the new laws, those convicted of supplying it could face up to 14 years in prison.

According to NHS data from 2020 and 2021, nitrous oxide was the third most used drug among 16 to 59 year olds in England and Wales.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report suggested this equated to about 230,000 young people in the year ending June 2022.

Legitimate uses of the gas include pain relief for medical procedures, as well as in manufacturing.

Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow from Essex Police said the force was committed to tackling anti-social behaviour – something nitrous oxide is heavily associated with.

Mr Anslow said: “It’s important that we also continue to stress that a responsibility lies with retailers to ensure they are aware of what the law says.

“They have a moral and legal duty to ensure that they’re doing everything they can when selling the product to ascertain that it is being purchased for a legitimate reason.

“We’ll take a proportionate approach to tackling those found in possession of nitrous oxide canisters.

“We’ll also consider enforcement action and that could include penalty notices, community resolutions, cautions, or prosecution.

“If someone’s in possession of a number of canisters, they could be prosecuted for possession with intent to supply.”

Superintendent Naomi Edwards, Essex Police’s lead on anti-social behaviour, said: “The use nitrous oxide in public spaces is a nuisance to communities.

“Canisters are often discarded in the street and close to schools and it is one of the main contributors to youth ASB.

“Including the significant impact this has on health, this also impacts on communities where the after effects of vomiting and nausea are left in open spaces where people want to feel safe.”