Nitrous oxide: Advisory panel rejects calls for ban on recreational use

A government commissioned review has concluded that the possession of nitrous oxide should not be banned, but that additional measures are needed to tackle non-legitimate supply.

The decision by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) comes despite reports of an increase in neurological harms, including nerve and spinal cord damage, related to heavy and persistent use.

In 2021 the ACMD was asked to review the harms of nitrous oxide by the then home secretary Priti Patel who said she was “ready to take tough action” on the drug.

The independent panel concluded, however, “Current evidence suggests that the health and social harms of nitrous oxide are not commensurate with control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.” It said sanctions for offences under the act would be “disproportionate” with the level of harm associated with the drug as well as creating “significant burdens” for legitimate uses of the substance. Nitrous oxide is widely used in the food industry and in medical settings for sedation and pain relief.

Instead, ACMD said nitrous oxide should remain under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 but this should be better enforced. The act makes production, supply, and importation of nitrous oxide for inhalation illegal, but not possession.

Source: Jacqui Wise, BMJ