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Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Who’s laughing now? UK drug advisors reject calls for nitrous oxide ban

The government’s attempt to justify its laughing gas crackdown has backfired

Back in January 2023, it was announced that the UK Home Office was planning to ban the sale and possession of nitrous oxide (AKA laughing gas), as part of its ongoing plan to suck all the joy out of young people’s lives. Now, though, the UK’s drug advisory panel has rejected calls to ban the substance, following an extensive review.

Despite being banned for psychoactive purposes under 2016’s Psychoactive Substances Act, laughing gas remains one of the most popular recreational drugs among 16 to 24-year-olds (only coming in behind cannabis) with one in ten reporting that they’ve used it. Amid a broader crackdown on “antisocial behaviour”, the government has been calling for tighter regulation for years, with former home secretary Priti Patel promising to take “tough action” in 2021.

Ironically, it was Patel who asked the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the harms of laughing gas two years ago, with current home secretary Suella Braverman renewing concerns earlier this year when she claimed that the government is “determined to crack down on this scourge to protect our streets”.

Unfortunately for our draconian overlords, the ACMD has concluded that they should not enforce a blanket ban on laughing gas for recreational use. According to its new report, the level of health and social harms doesn’t justify controlling nitrous oxide under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which could have “significant unintended consequences”. Restrictions could also “produce significant burdens” on legitimate uses, the panel adds, which range from medical pain relief to whipped cream propellant.

There have been a few (uncommon) medical concerns linked to laughing gas in recent years, but many experts agree that the substance is less dangerous than legal drugs, such as alcohol. The ACMD also says that there’s “no substantive evidence linking nitrous oxide with antisocial behaviour or widespread criminal activities” at present.

That doesn’t mean the ACMD is going all-in with its endorsement of laughing gas, though. Its report concludes that laughing gas should stay under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and that this should be supported by “tackling non-legitimate supply” and increased monitoring of the potential social and health harms.

In response to the ACMD report, a Home Office spokesperson tells the BBC: “We thank them for their report, which we will now consider.”

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