Misuse of Nitrous Oxide

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 23rd November 2022.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls 10:56 am, 23rd November 2022

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Desecrating a grave is absolutely appalling. The last time I saw a pile of empty NOS canisters was outside the Royal Society on Carlton House Terrace, which is an unexpected place to see them. I am sure the members were not using it themselves. My hon. Friend is right that it brings about behaviour that, at the time may seem highly amusing to the person affected by it, but has incredibly profound long-term effects to other people around them. I will come to that later. The important point is that something that is used by trained medical professionals for beneficial medical outcomes, although not always without risk, is being misused to the level that it destroys the lives of the users and those around them.

How is nitrous oxide becoming so prevalent? The reality is that there seems to be no one controlling the selling of it. The Act is being ignored at worst, and at best it is very difficult to enforce. Users say that nitrous oxide is incredibly easily to get hold of, as it is freely available in corner shops. Moreover, it seems to be getting cheaper while everything else is getting more expensive. The 600 gram canister that I mentioned earlier has dropped from £50 to just £25, bucking the trend of the cost of living crisis. For communities that tend to avoid alcohol, it is an apparently guilt-free alternative.

The availability of nitrous oxide is extraordinary, given that it is being used as a psychoactive drug and is therefore controlled by the 2016 Act. You can google this should you choose to, Sir Christopher. There are websites that sell it nominally as a whipped cream additive, but brazenly give advice on its psychoactive effects and its legality or otherwise as a recreational drug. There is even one website that offers vitamin B12 supplements to counteract its effects. More alarmingly, one website that I looked at offers nitrous oxide not just in quantities for personal use—six 600-gram canisters can be bought for an attractive £130—but by the pallet load. Seventy-two cases of canisters cost an impressive £8,150, which will be delivered to the buyer’s door. Remember that the website starts by talking about it as a whipped cream additive but quickly goes on to its misuse. That is either an awful lot of whipped cream, or this is a wholesaler of misery for any number of people.