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Laughing Gas Balloons – worth the laugh or no laughing matter?

An eye opening article by Emma Wolloff

Koh Samui has seen an increase recently of bars and clubs across the island selling the “Laughing Gas Balloons. In order to discover if this new trend is worth all of the laughter or it is no laughing matter at all, we sent our investigators out to find out what the fascination is with these balloons, why they are so popular and what the side effects are from using them.

laughing gas 1Cheap, seemingly harmless and guaranteeing a night of raucous laughter, this so-called ‘hippy crack’ is becoming increasingly popular with celebrities and their well-heeled young fans the world over. Even Prince Harry was seen indulging two years ago. The trend is taking off in the UK, the USA and popular European holiday destinations such as Ibiza, Magaluf and Cyprus and now, it seems it is set do the same in Asia.

The psychological effects of nitrous oxide were discovered in 1799 by British chemist and inventor Humphry Davy. When inhaled, nitrous oxide can cause euphoria, sedation, analgesia (pain relief), laughter/giggling, dissociation of the mind from the body, auditive distortions, visual hallucinations (rare) and other phenomena.

Sir Humphrey DavyIn 1800, Humphrey Davy started marketing nitrous oxide as a recreational drug. Nitrous oxide was called ‘laughing gas’ and its use became popular at social events, predominantly those of the British upper classes, where it was commonly sold for entertainment. In modern times, nitrous oxide is sometimes used at parties, usually filled into balloons from which the drug can easily be inhaled.

So what is nitrous oxide, well it is a colourless, volatile gas at room temperature. Some people have reported that it has a slightly sweet smell and taste. The gas belongs to a group of drugs which kill pain and it has three main legitimate uses. Numbing the pain during procedures such as dental work, increasing the power output in engines and in catering it is found in some aerosol cans such as whipped cream and food packaging.

The misuse of the gas has come about due to its ability to make people feel euphoric and relaxed when it is inhaled, although far from just laughing some people who use it experienced hallucinations, immediate headache and dizziness. The gas can easily affect your judgment, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously and put yourself at risk particularly in unsafe environments. Worryingly like other volatile substances, found in glue or aerosols, it can cause death even on the first use.

laughing gasThe gas is normally sold in pressured canisters that vary in size depending on its intended use. The reason Nitrous oxide is sold for recreational use in balloons is because inhaling the product directly from a pressurized gas canister carries a greater risk of injury and sudden death.Sudden death from using this gas comes about due to it preventing the essential intake of oxygen. However even inhaling using the balloon method can become more dangerous in enclosed spaces. Another significant risk factor is knowing just how much you are inhaling and judging an amount that can be inhaled safely, causing euphoria and a high rather than a serious accident and or death.

Severe vitamin B deficiency can develop with heavy, regular use of nitrous oxide. This can cause serious nerve damage, which leads to tingling and numbness in the fingers, toes and other extremities, and even to difficulties with walking, and to pains in the affected areas.

Mixing nitrous oxide with alcohol is especially dangerous as it can increase the risks associate with both substances and so can lead to an increased risk of accidents or death. Nitrous oxide is not illegal, but this doesn’t mean that it is safe to use. It is illegal, in England and Wales, for anyone to sell nitrous oxide to people under-18, if they think they’re likely to be inhaling the nitrous oxide.

So with these facts in mind, maybe next time you are offered a balloon to put you on a high you may think again about inhaling its contents and find a safer method.

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