A record seizure. This Monday, 15 tons of nitrous oxide, known as “laughing gas”, were seized in the Paris region. Available over the counter in the form of whipped cream dispenser cartridges, nitrous oxide is also used in medicine for its analgesic properties. But in recent years, the laughing gas has been popular with young partygoers, who consume large quantities, leaving behind them floors strewn with small silver cartridges.
If since June 1, 2021, its sale is subject to restriction and forbidden to minors, nitrous oxide is the subject of a strong growing diverted consumption, stories on social networks, and a prosperous traffic in full expansion. However, this laughing gas does not make health professionals and authorities laugh, who warn of the deleterious 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 dealers contacted via social networks, the “proto” has been diverted from its use for its psychoactive effects. “Young consumers ‘crack’ the cartridge, put the gas in a balloon balloon and inhale it. The effects are almost instantaneous, we are euphoric, we burst into uncontrollable laughter, we have the feeling of being a little drunk, uninhibited. You can even have hallucinations”, explains to 20 minutes Professor Laurent Karila, addiction psychiatrist, professor at the University of Paris Saclay and author of the book We only have one life (ed. Fayard).
In practice, the inhaled nitrous oxide will quickly pass through the blood and reach the brain, which explains “its rapid euphoric effects, which will last only two to three minutes, continues the addictologist. The problem is the brain will love these effects, and make users want to do it again”.
Galloping consumption and “addictive problem”
A path that can quickly lead to addiction. “The low cost of the product and the rapid disappearance of the desired effects can encourage frequent renewal of doses and lead to excessive consumption, alert Drugs info service. We now observe among some users, massive consumption over prolonged periods of time, which evokes an addictive problem. When stopping use, regular users may experience anxiety, restlessness, abdominal pain and tremors”. Or all the signs of a state of lack.
“Like other drugs that provide a feeling of pleasure, many consumers want to take it again to rediscover the effects felt during the first intake and for vulnerable people, it can become an object of addiction, confirms the Prof. Karla. Especially since the consumption of nitrous oxide generates a phenomenon of tolerance: gradually, the same dose provides less effects, so we will take a much larger dose to regain the sensations felt the first times. We thus see from very heavy consumers, which can take several tens or even hundreds of nitrous oxide cartridges in one evening. However, we do not yet have waves of patients consulting specifically for an addiction to nitrous oxide”.
“Irreversible sequelae from the first times”
But even before addiction sets in, laughing gas users can quickly develop complications. “From the first few times, you can have negative effects, with dizziness, headaches, difficulty coordinating your movements, a state of confusion, even loss of consciousness. Some may asphyxiate from lack of oxygen, fall heavily, or have psychiatric complications with panic attacks, ”warns the addictologist. In addition, taking nitrous oxide “exposes a risk of cold burns, prevents Drugs info service. When expelled from its container, nitrous oxide becomes a very cold gas. Inhalation directly from the cartridge is to be absolutely avoided because it exposes you to serious risks of frostbite of the nose, lips and vocal cords”.
And if these young people addicted to nitrous oxide do not yet flock to addictology consultations, “on the other hand, we are currently seeing hospitalized in other services for complications linked to their high consumption, underlines Professor Karila. In neurology departments for damage to the spinal cord and irreversible peripheral nerve damage, as if they had had a stroke. It is dreadful! And I think there will be more and more of them in cardiology departments because it causes heart rhythm disorders, as well as in pulmonology for pulmonary edema”.
“Focus on prevention”
So, Professor Karila hammers it, “we must emphasize the prevention. When we see young people filming themselves inhaling laughing gas on social networks as if it were something innocuous and without danger, it is dramatic. Young consumers are unaware of the risks they are taking. While their parents are unaware of their consumption and the associated risks. Hence the importance of informing this public, firstly to dissuade them from consuming, but also to provide some advice to reduce the risks associated with consumption. It is therefore advisable not to mix with alcohol or other drugs, not to directly inhale the cartridge to avoid burns or to consume while sitting to avoid falls and injuries. And obviously not to take the wheel in stride ”.
Because this recreational use can in the most dramatic cases cost the life of consumers. On August 8, an investigation was opened to determine the causes of the death of a young man in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne), who allegedly inhaled nitrous oxide.