In response to a rapid increase in the use of nitrous oxide among the nation’s youth, the Dutch government has announced plans to include laughing gas on its black list of forbidden drugs.

Deputy Health Minister Paul Blockhuis, in a letter to parliament, said: “Recreational use of laughing gas has become a drugs problem, and therefore the Opium Law is the right route to tackle this.”

However, use of the gas will continue to be allowed by dentists as a pain killer, and by food makers as a propellant in whipped cream cans.

When the gas is inhaled, it creates a short-lasting euphoria popularly considered harmless. But Blockhuis said that in addition to danger of users losing consciousness and falling and bumping their heads, or of getting in traffic accidents, use of the drug could also cause brain damage.

“We can no longer accept the risks taken with the health of youth in particular”, he said.

This summer, the UK Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that many people remained ignorant of the risks of laughing gas and warned that the public was too complacent. Using the gas is associated with breathing difficulties, dangerously-increased heart rate, burns, and even death, they said. People have died by taking too much nitrous oxide and falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen.

The discarded small silver canisters that contain nitrous oxide gas are becoming noticed more often in public spaces and at festivals. The gas is emptied into balloons before being inhaled. In England and Wales, it is the second most commonly used recreational drug after cannabis.

In the Netherlands, laughing gas had long been a fringe phenomenon at festivals, where stronger drugs are often used. But authorities became concerned when laughing gas started cropping up on street corners in the past 3 years.

The RCN advise that if someone collapses after using nitrous oxide, emergency services must be called immediately. The person needs to be turned on their side to avoid choking and kept a watch on until an ambulance arrives.

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