‘Hippy crack’ will be banned ‘by end of the year’: Nitrous oxide will become illegal Class C substance with those found in possession facing up to two years in prison, Home Office announces

Nitrous oxide will become an illegal Class C drug with recreational users facing up to two years in jail by the end of the year, the Home Secretary said today.  

The substance, also known as ‘hippy crack’, is being targeted with a crackdown following widespread complaints about antisocial behaviour and littering by users. 

Suella Braverman said the move was part of attempts to ‘get tougher on flagrant drug taking in the streets’. 

Nitrous oxide is the third most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in England, with heavy use linked to anaemia and – in more severe cases – nerve damage or paralysis.

Those found in unlawful possession of the drug could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, and up to 14 years for supply or production. 

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the classification of nitrous oxide as a Class C drug was part of efforts to ‘get tougher on flagrant drug taking in the streets’

In recent years there have been growing concerns about the substance’s impact on health as well as the ‘epidemic’ of the silver canisters (pictured) littering public spaces 

What are the risks of nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide, has been nicknamed ‘laughing gas’ due to the euphoric and relaxed feeling people who inhale it can sometimes feel.

The substance – also known as ‘hippy crack’ – is normally bought in pressured canisters, commonly transferred to a container, e.g. a balloon, from which the gas is inhaled.

Although possession of laughing gas is not currently illegal, English law prohibits its sale to under-18s if there is a chance they will inhale it. 

The effects of nitrous oxide:

• Feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calm.

• Dizziness, difficulty in thinking straight and fits of giggles/laughter.

• Sound distortions or even hallucinations.

• In some people, a headache can be an unwanted immediate effect.

Risks include:

• Unconsciousness or death from lack of oxygen. This occurs when the available oxygen for breathing is effectively pushed out by the nitrous oxide.

There will be exemptions for legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, for example in medical or catering industries.

Ms Braverman said: ‘The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up.

‘Earlier this year the Prime Minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering.

‘If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time.

‘New schemes are already underway to increase police patrols in hotspot areas of antisocial behaviour and dish out punishments for perpetrators more quickly, and police will soon be able to drug test people arrested for a wider range of illegal drugs.’

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: ‘We cannot allow young people to think there are no consequences to misusing drugs.

‘There is no question that abusing laughing gas is dangerous to people’s health and it is paramount we take decisive action before the situation gets worse.

‘Not only are we making possession an offence for the first time, we are also doubling the maximum sentence for supply to 14 years, so the dealers profiting off this trade have no place to hide.’

Michael Kill, head of the Night-time Industries Association, said the UK had seen ‘a significant escalation’ in problems linked with nitrous oxide in the last year.

“Over the years, the industry has grappled with the persistent issue of nitrous oxide’s sale and consumption, which has been exacerbated by existing regulations that have rendered licensees and authorities ill-equipped to combat this problem effectively,’ he said. 

“The burden on businesses has been substantial, as they’ve contended with mounting pressure from authorities and residents due to the proliferation of discarded silver canisters on the streets.

“This predicament has not only posed risks to the well-being of both staff and patrons but has also fostered an environment conducive to petty crime, anti-social behaviour, and the activities of organised crime syndicates.’

Nitrous oxide will be banned by secondary legislation, known as a statutory instrument, which must be debated in the Commons and Lords before taking effect. 

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