Nitrous oxide- not just your innocent whipped cream making gas

Nitrous oxide- not just your innocent whipped cream making gas

Sales of nitrous oxide in the Netherlands have risen by 400 percent in the last two years.

Many people may have noticed an increasing presence of little silver canisters littering the streets in the Netherlands. These are whipped-cream chargers, steel cylinders filled with nitrous oxide, used as a whipping agent in whipped cream dispensers.

This is not their only current use, however. By dispensing the nitrous oxide into a balloon and then inhaling it, the canisters can be used to achieve a high.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide, commonly know as laughing gas, is a non-flammable, colourless gas compound of nitrogen and oxygen. Discovered in 1772 by Joseph Priestley and later named by Sir Humphry Davy, who demonstrated its physiological effect, it is often used for its anaesthetic properties in surgeries or dentistry.

Other common uses include rocket propellants, motor racing and whipped cream.

In addition to these many uses, nitrous oxide is also used recreationally by party-goers as it allows them to achieve a feeling of euphoria.

Blokker and other sales points

Since the canisters are officially intended for household use, they can easily be obtained in large household supply stores, such as famous chain the Blokker.

Nitrous Oxide is not currently on the prescription medicine list, so it can easily be sold over the counter. Some companies do try to monitor their sales by refusing to sell to underage customers, or requesting intended use when processing a big order.

One canister can last a long time as a whipped-cream charger, but users who inhale the substance can easily go through several units in one go. Therefore, large quantities purchased by individuals can easily arouse suspicion.

How does laughing gas affect you?

When inhaled, laughing gas can affect you in a number of ways, and as with many drugs, the effects depend on the person taking them and how much of the drug is used.

Although many users deny any similarities to real drug use, the use of laughing gas falls under the inhalant-depressant-drug category, along with adhesives and solvents, and slows down the body and brain’s responses.

One may feel euphoric, calm and relaxed after taking it. One may also experience dizziness, difficulty in thinking straight and fits of laughter. Some have even reported sound distortions and hallucinations. A headache can also accompany the inhalation of the gas.

What are the risks involved?

As the laughing gas can make you dizzy, you are at risk of falling or making a bad judgement call and injuring yourself.

Depending upon the way in which the gas is administered, you are at risk of damaging your lungs. One may also be at risk of unconsciousness or death. This occurs when nitrous oxide replaces the air in the lungs causing asphyxiation (suffocation). This is more likely to occur if the gas is inhaled in an enclosed space or via a mask or plastic bag, which covers both the nose and mouth.

Taking too much nitrous oxide at one time can cause fainting and lead to accidents.

Effects after long-term use

Using nitrous oxide heavily and regularly can cause a deficiency in vitamin B12. Deficiency in B12 can lead to serious nerve damage, which one experiences as tingling and numbness in the extremities. One may also have difficulty walking and feel pain in the affected areas.

A severe deficiency can also depress the formation of white blood cells.

For more information on the drug see FRANK.

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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dr.sliderule 06:15 | 21 August 2017

Mina, You must be high on nitrous oxide. Joseph Priestley did not discover nitrous oxide in 1722. In fact, he was not born until 1733, a full eleven years later!

minasolanki 11:31 | 21 August 2017

Hi dr.sliderule, Thanks for pointing that out. I have changed the date.