A HAGLEY neurologist who has treated people suffering the effects of nitrous oxide says he doubts the change in the law which now makes the substance a class C drug is going to make difference.
And Dr David Nicholl, a clinical lead in neurology at a Birmingham hospital, added it could potentially even make his job harder.
Dr Nicholl featured in a new documentary on the subject – Drugs Map of Britain – which was broadcast on the BBC this week.
The new legislation, which came into force today (Wednesday), outlaws nitrous oxide or ‘NOS’ for recreational use.
Users have been warned they could face a prison sentence of two years or an unlimited fine, with up to 14 years for supply or production.
Nitrous oxide or NOS – which causes euphoria but can damage the nervous system – is one of the most commonly used recreational drugs by 16 to 24-year-olds.
Nitrous oxide is regularly used as a painkiller in medicine and dentistry. When mixed with oxygen, it is known as ‘gas and air’ which can help reduce pain during childbirth.
It is also widely used in the catering industry to aerate cream and sauces.
Law change could have no effect and lead to more problems
But Dr Nicholl said patients suffering the effects of nitrous oxide were already hesitant to engage with health professionals if they fall victim to the damaging symptoms.
He met the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police last year to hand over a list of shops supplying NOS which his patients had told him about.
“There have only been four arrests since the 2016 act.
“If we are doubling the length of the prison sentence for suppliers, twice nothing is still nothing.”
One of the ways it is inhaled is via a balloon, in a practice known as ‘ballooning’.
Dr Nicholl said – if someone is daft enough to balloon NOS and drive a car- they deserve to lose their licence and jail.
Last month, Cameron Hughes was jailed for seven-and-a-half years after he killed his passenger, a 15-year-old family friend, when he crashed his van whilst under the influence of NOS.
Dr Nicholl, who has been a neurologist for 20 years, has said previously that he would only ever see a couple of cases caused by nitrous oxide but that number has grown since 2020, adding it had become very popular among 16 to 24-year-olds.
“There is a group of people who are not using other drugs, including alcohol, but they are taking nitrous oxide.”
The most common symptoms he sees are people with tingling and numbness sensations, along with patients having difficulty walking, unsteadiness and loss of coordination – caused by a deficit of vitamin B12 which is important for nerve function.
“Some may recover but some won’t, and will be left having to use walking aids.
“We had one patient who was in hospital for three months.”
He added there were heavy users out there becoming dependent on the large canisters.
“I hate seeing young people potentially ruin their lives, or end up with life-changing spinal cord injuries as a result of nitrous oxide abuse.”
Click here to watch the ‘Drugs Map of Britain’ documentary featuring Dr Nicholl.