Nitrous oxide: nurses say young people must be warned about the risks of its use

RCN congress will hear that current legislation is not working 

RCN congress will hear that current legislation is not working 

Nitrous oxide canisters are used to fill balloons, from which the gas is inhaled. 
Picture: Alamy

Nurses are calling for greater public awareness of the dangers of nitrous oxide ahead of the festival season.

Legislation introduced three years ago in the UK made it illegal to sell the gas, also known as ‘noz’, for psychoactive purposes.

Risks to young people

A debate at RCN congress today is due to hear from nurses about their experiences of treating young people who have become unwell after using the gas. They will add that the legislation has failed to curb its usage.

The nurses will say too many people are still unaware of the risks of using nitrous oxide, including breathing problems, burns and the risk of heart rate being increased to a dangerous level. 

The Home Office estimates that half a million 16-24 year olds in England and Wales used nitrous oxide in 2017-18. Its data also reveals that 10.9% of males in this age group used the gas, compared with 6.5% of females.

Silver canisters of the gas are dispensed into balloons for inhalation, and the empty canisters have become a familiar sight on street pavements and in parks.

Physical and psychological effects

RCN professional lead for mental health nursing Catherine Gamble said: ‘Along with the physical effects on the body, which themselves can be very serious, there are the psychological effects associated with the abuse of any substance that can lead to addiction.

‘As nurses we need to have proper conversations with people about the risks, and support those who need our help. The law is clearly not working. Better public information about the risks, aimed especially at festival goers and young people, would help individuals to stay safe and reduce the burden on nursing professionals.’

Between 2007 and 2015, a total of 19 deaths were attributed to nitrous oxide in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Read all the latest from RCN congress 2019 here

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