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Nitrous Oxide: Misuse

Question for Home Office

UIN HL15173, tabled on 9 April 2019

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the proportion of nitrous oxide sold for catering purposes but used for recreational purposes; whether they consider the recreational use of nitrous oxide to be harmful or to be a gateway drug amongst young people; and whether they have any plans to tighten the rules relating to the supply of nitrous oxide.

Answered on

24 April 2019

The Government has not made an assessment of the proportion of nitrous oxide sold for catering purposes and subsequently diverted into the illicit market.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs considered nitrous oxide in 2015 and concluded that there is evidence that the use of nitrous oxide, other than in line with designated guidance and for the purposes other than for which it was manufactured, can cause harm. Evidence is not available on whether nitrous oxide is a gateway drug to other harmful substances.

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 those who supply nitrous oxide for recreational use, or who are reckless as to whether it will used for its psychoactive effect, are subject to a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.

In 2017/18, there were 95 seizures of nitrous oxide by police forces in England and Wales. Since the PSA came into force in 2016, over 300 retailers across the United Kingdom have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances; police have arrested suppliers; and action by the National Crime Agency has resulted in the removal of psychoactive substances being sold by UK based websites. In 2016, there were a total of 28 convictions in England and Wales under the PSA and seven people jailed under the new powers. This rose to 152 convictions in 2017 with 62 people immediately sent to custody.

The Government has no plans to change the law further in relation to this substance.

In relation to drug misuse more broadly, on 8 February, the Government announced the appointment of Professor Dame Carol Black to lead a wide-ranging review of drugs. In its initial stage it will look at who drug users are, what they are taking and how often to build the most in-depth and comprehensive picture of this issue to date. The review, which will build on existing government strategies to combat drugs, serious violence and serious and organised crime, will examine the harms that drugs cause and the best ways to prevent drug-taking.

Answered by

Home Office