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It is now the second most used drug by 16-24 year olds in the UK, with more than half a million young people reporting taking the drug in 2019-20.
The small metal canisters have been lining the streets as rubbish for many years, but now larger canisters are being used for the taking the nitrous oxide. Larger canisters of nitrous oxide products such as Smartwhip or Goldwhip - cans that are specially-designed and legally sold to the catering industry to whip cream - appear to be at least part of the reason why hospital admissions are 'through the roof' since Covid.
The gas was originally used for anaesthesia but is now taken for fun by many who are unaware of the wider effects it can have.
The use of nitrous oxide is said to provide a short burst of euphoria and will last no more than a few seconds. However it can cause paralysis and even death if inhaled excessively.
Hospital admissions from the use of nitrous oxide have risen hugely since the end of lockdown. At Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust, toxicologist Dr Mark Pucci told ITV News there were just six admissions to his hospital between 2015 and 2020 related to the use of nitrous oxide.
SNT have been out on patrol today covering parks, checking stairwells and blocks and dealing with individuals causing ASB. Colleagues have also stopped a male driving a car while he was inhaling nitrous oxide. Found to have no insurance, so car now seized. @MPSTowerHam pic.twitter.com/nExR3S8ld6— Bethnal Green East Safer Neighbourhood Team (@MPSBethnalGreen) July 29, 2022
However, now he says there is one nearly every couple of weeks and he's had two patients admitted to his ward last week alone.
Earlier this year in June, a 16-year-old boy was said to be 'lucky to be alive' after he inhaled laughing gas and ended up being diagnosed with a ruptured lung as a result.
Alex Littler, a year 11 student from Cheshire, inhaled the nitrous oxide while at Parklife festival in Manchester (11-12 June).
He later complained of a swollen neck, breathlessness and feeling that his chest was like 'popping bubble wrap' when touched. Alex was rushed to hospital the following Monday, where he confessed to doctors and his mum that he'd inhaled the gas.
Alex's mum Cathy Mccann is now hoping to warn others of the dangers of the laughing gas as she expressed belief parents don't 'know the concept'.
She said: "No one knows the depth and consequences. Sixteen-year-olds are dying, people have messaged me saying their son died."
Alex was diagnosed with a ruptured and leaking lung, with medics telling him he was lucky to be alive but that he may have to undergo surgery to remove air that was trapped around his lungs and heart. Thankfully an oxygen mask left on overnight managed to remove the trapped air without Alex having to undergo an operation.
The 16-year-old has vowed never to inhale the drug again and admitted he didn't know the dangers, with Cathy saying her son had told her it was 'the worst thing he could have done'.