A record seizure. This Monday, 15 tons of nitrous oxide, known as “laughing gas”, were seized in the Paris region. Laughing gas is available over the counter in whipped cream cartridges and is also used medicinally for its pain-relieving properties. But in recent years, nitrous oxide has become popular with young partygoers, who consume large quantities and leave floors littered with small silver cartridges.
With sales to minors restricted and prohibited since June 1, 2021, nitrous oxide is the subject of a proliferation of diverted consumption, stories on social networks and a thriving traffic in full expansion. However, this nitrous oxide does not make a laughing stock of health experts and authorities who warn of the harmful effects of this substance.
“A euphoric effect two to three minutes”
Accessible in one click, inexpensive and delivered to your home by e-commerce platforms or by merchants contacted through social networks, the “Proto” has been diverted from its use because of its psychoactive effects. “Young consumers ‘crack’ the cartridge, fill the gas into a balloon and inhale it. The effect is almost instantaneous, we are euphoric, we burst out laughing uncontrollably, we feel a little drunk, uninhibited. You can even have hallucinations, ”explains Professor Laurent Karila, addict, psychiatrist, professor at Paris Saclay University and author of the book On n’a qu’une vie (ed. Fayard) to 20 minutes.
In practice, the inhaled nitrous oxide will quickly pass through the blood and reach the brain, which explains its rapid euphoric effects, which last only two to three minutes, the addiction specialist continues. The problem is that the brain loves these effects and makes users want to do it again.”
Galloping consumption and “addiction problem”
A path that can quickly lead to addiction. “The low cost of the product and the rapid disappearance of the desired effect can encourage frequent renewal of doses and lead to overconsumption,” warns the drug information service. We are now seeing some users massively consuming it for long periods of time, creating an addiction problem. When use is discontinued, regular users may experience anxiety, agitation, abdominal pain, and tremors.” Or any signs of deficiency.
“Like other stimulants, many consumers want to take it again to rediscover the effects of the first dose, and for vulnerable people it can become an object of addiction,” confirms Prof. Karla. Especially since the consumption of nitrous oxide creates a phenomenon of tolerance: little by little the same dose will have less effect, so we will take a much larger dose to regain the sensations felt the first time. So we see very large consumers who can ingest tens or even hundreds of cartridges of nitrous oxide in one evening. However, we have not yet had any waves of patients who seek advice specifically because of nitrous oxide dependence.”
“Irreversible consequences of the first times”
But even before the addiction, nitrous oxide users can quickly develop complications. “From the first few times you can experience adverse effects, with dizziness, headaches, difficulty coordinating your movements, a state of confusion, even unconsciousness. Some can suffocate from lack of oxygen, fall badly or have psychiatric complications with panic attacks,” warns the addiction specialist. In addition, taking nitrous oxide puts you at “a risk of catching a cold,” warns the Drug Information Service. When expelled from its container, nitrous oxide becomes a very cold gas. It is very important to avoid inhaling directly from the cartridge as it will expose you to serious frostbite on your nose, lips and vocal cords.”
And if these young people addicted to nitrous oxide are not yet flocking to addiction counseling services, “on the other hand, we are currently being hospitalized in other services for complications related to their heavy use,” Professor Karila points out. In neurological departments for damage to the spinal cord and irreversible peripheral nerve damage, as if they had a stroke. It’s terrible! And I think there will be more and more of it in cardiology departments because it causes cardiac arrhythmias, and in pulmonology for pulmonary edema.”
“Focus on Prevention”
So Professor Karila hammers it in: “We have to emphasize prevention. When we see young people on social media filming themselves inhaling nitrous oxide as if it were something harmless and harmless, it’s dramatic. Young consumers are unaware of the risks they are taking. While their parents are unaware of their consumption and the risks involved. It is therefore important to inform this public, firstly to discourage consumption, but also to provide advice to reduce the risks associated with consumption. It is therefore advisable not to mix with alcohol or other drugs, do not inhale the cartridge directly to avoid burns, or consume while sitting to avoid falling and injury. And, of course, not taking the wheel with every step”.
In the worst case, this leisure use can cost consumers their lives. An inquest was launched on August 8 to determine the causes of death of a young man in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne) who was alleged to have inhaled nitrous oxide.