The Dutch government has announced it will be banning the use of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas from January 2023, amid concerns over the health risks for the growing number of young people using it.
The government hopes the ban will reduce the number of road traffic accidents involving the drug.
The ban will make it illegal to buy, sell or own the gas but authorities say it can still be used for medicinal purposes and in the food industry. It has become widely and easily available for recreational use, as it can be legally bought and sold for the purpose of making whipped cream.
Nitrous oxide is regularly used in big canisters as an anaesthetic inhaled by patients at hospitals and dental surgeries.
According to TeamAlert, a Dutch road safety monitor, laughing gas has played a role in 1,800 accidents across the Netherlands over the past three years.
“Almost two a day, figures that really shocked us,” Maartje Oosterink of TeamAlert told AD newspaper
The gas is mostly sold in small metal canisters, which are emptied into balloons before it is inhaled.
The legal high has grown in popularity amongst clubbers and festival-goers in recent years, and is often used in combination with other drugs like MDMA (ecstasy) or ketamine.
Research by Trimbos Institute also showed that more than 37% of Dutch party-goers, mostly young people use laughing gas on a regular basis .
Medical research on the impact the depressant-type drug has shown that regular use can lead to a vitamin deficiency that can cause permanent nerve damage and lasting paralysis.
“The recreational use of nitrous oxide leads to enormous health risks,” State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport Maarten van Ooijen said, as the government decision was announced.
Justice Minister Dilan Ye?ilgöz said the ban would enable the police to take immediate action if they found someone with nitrous oxide gas canisters in their vehicle.