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Laughing gas to be banned in the UK by end of 2023

Nitrous oxide will be considered a Class C drug by the end of the year

By Joe Goggins

Nitrous oxide canisters
Spent canisters of laughing gas have become a familiar sight on UK streets. (Photo: GreenZeb/Wikimedia Commons)

The UK government has confirmed that laws around nitrous oxide will be tightened by the end of 2023.

Possession of the substance, popularly known as laughing gas, is currently legal in the UK, unless it can be proven that it is being held for recreational use. By the end of the year, though, it will be categorised as a Class C drug, bringing penalties for possession or distribution of it in line with other drugs in the class like anabolic steroids and GHB.

That means those caught producing or seeing the substance could face up to 14 years in prison. The move from the government is in contravention to advice given by the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which said that to outlaw laughing gas would be disproportionate to the harm caused by the substance.

Ealrier this year, however, a study conducted by staff at Barts Health NHS Trust in London suggested a possible link between use of laughing gaps and spinal damage. In the relation to the impending ban, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We are cleaning up our streets and tackling anti-social behaviour. Those in unlawful possession could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine.” Spent canisters of laughing gas have become a common sight on UK streets, the substance has become the second most widely-used recreational drug in the UK in recent years.

“The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up,” added Home Secretary Suella Braverman, with trademark subtlety. “Earlier this year the prime minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering. If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time.”

The ban has been in prospect since 2015, when the government said it intended to outlaw “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel, took specific aim at laughing gas in 2021 when she asked the ACMD to review the effects of it. Braverman has gone on to disregard their advice.