Nitrous oxide (NOS)

Inhalent

Nitrous oxide is a drug with anaesthetic and psychedelic properties which can have a dissociative effect.

Also known as:

  • Nos
  • Laughing gas
  • Balloons
  • Chargers
  • Hippie Crack

What does nitrous oxide look like?

  •  A colourless gas often found in small metal canisters

How is nitrous oxide taken?

  • Inhaling* using a ‘cracker’ or cream charger to transfer the gas into a balloon

*Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the canister is very dangerous and can damage your mouth, throat and lungs, slow down your heart rate, and stop your breathing.

How can nitrous oxide make me feel?

Nitrous oxide can make you feel:

  • Giggly
  • Euphoric 
  • Relaxed
  • Dizzy

Nitrous oxide can also:

  • Cause hallucinations and sounds may become distorted 
  • Make it hard to concentrate or think clearly
  • Cause intense but brief feelings of paranoia
  • Lead to loss of feeling in parts of your body
  • Slow down your breathing and heart rate
  • Cause you to collapse 

How long do the effects of nitrous oxide last?

It depends on several factors, including your age, weight and metabolism, what you have already taken, the purity of the drug, and the dose.

Generally speaking, the short-term effects start almost instantly and tend not to last long, usually only minutes. 

What happens to my body if I use NOS frequently?

Using nitrous oxide frequently can:

  • Cause nerve damage 
  • Lead to loss of feeling or paralysis in your fingers, toes and other parts of your body 
  • Harm your immune system

How to reduce harm while using nitrous oxide

We recognise that some ways of using drugs carry less risk than others, and by providing information which supports people to make informed decisions, we can help people to minimise harm.

Before you start, check:

  • Is now the right time? How you’re feeling when you use nitrous oxide can impact the effects you may experience, so consider checking in with yourself and thinking about whether now is a good time for you.

  • Do I know what I’m taking? Nitrous oxide canisters may look similar to other gas canisters, so checking what you plan on taking, what the effects can be and how to reduce harm can help to keep you safe. 

  • Have I contacted a friend or family member? In case you need help while you’re taking nitrous oxide, consider telling someone your plans.

While you're using:

Go at your own pace

Everyone responds differently to drugs - trying to keep up with others puts you at greater risk of overdosing. 

Try not to mix

Try and take nitrous oxide on its own, as mixing it with other drugs or alcohol can increase your risk of overdose.

Try not to use on your own

It's best not to use nitrous oxide if you’re on your own or if you’re in a position where there is nobody you could call for help. A buddy system - where one person takes their dose first and waits until the peak effects have worn off before the other person uses - makes it more likely that someone can help if anyone overdoses.

Opt for methods that carry less risk 

Use a balloon to inhale nitrous oxide, as inhaling the gas directly from the canister or cream charger can cause serious harm. It’s also very dangerous to put a balloon or bag over your head.

Find a safe space

Nitrous oxide can make you very dizzy very quickly, so try and find a space where you can sit down and you feel safe, comfortable, and are with people you trust. Try also to use nitrous oxide in a well-ventilated space. 

Use your own equipment

Using your own balloons and chargers can help to prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses (BBVS) like hep B, hep C and HIV.

The recovery position

The recovery position helps to prevent someone unconscious from choking on vomit. If someone is unconscious, putting them in the recovery position, getting help if needed, and staying with them will help to reduce the risk of harm.

After using nitrous oxide:

  • If you think you may be at risk of blood-borne viruses (BBVs) like Hep B, Hep C and HIV, you can access free testing from any drug and alcohol service, your GP, or a sexual health centre. You can catch a BBV even if you don’t inject a drug - through unprotected sex or sharing equipment like balloons or chargers

And always remember - if you’re feeling low and feel you can’t talk to a friend or family member, contact us for help through our webchat or find your local service.

What do I do if I think someone has overdosed on nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide can slow down your breathing or heart rate, and if too much is taken, suffocation can occur.

If someone passes out or falls asleep and you can’t wake them up after using nitrous oxide, put them in the recovery position and get help fast by calling 999, telling emergency services what you know.

The law around nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is a Class C drug, which means it's illegal to be found carrying or using it. The legal term for this is possession. The maximum sentence for possession of a Class C drug is up to two years in prison, a fine or both. 

It’s also illegal to give away or sell nitrous oxide. This is known as supply, and is a more serious offence than possession.  It can be considered supply if you give your friend some or share some with them, and this could get you time in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Looking for support?

If you’re concerned about your nitrous oxide use, or if you’re worried about someone you know, we’re WithYou. We provide free, confidential and non-judgemental support and advice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out: