By Grahame Anderson

Two prominent community figures in Bradford have called on the Government to review the use of laughing gas or Nitrous Oxide (N2O) as a recreational drug. The move comes in the light of gas cannisters found littering streets across the UK.

Sofia Buncy mapping out the hotspots of disposed nitrous oxide canisters across Bradford District

Both Sofia Buncy, national co-ordinator at the Khidmat Centre and lead on the Muslim Women in Prison Project, and Sharat Hussain, a youth worker at The Mary Magdalene Project, are increasingly concerned youngsters could fall into the addiction trap.

According to The Global Drugs Survey – ‘Hippy Crack’ to use yet another name is inhaled using party balloons. It offers a brief high but can easily become addictive over time. The Psychoactive Substances Act introduced by the Government in 2016 made it illegal to produce, distribute, sell or supply nitrous oxide for human consumption. It’s a crime carrying a maximum penalty.

Known as a legal high, ‘nitty’, to use its other name is generally used in both the catering and medical industries. But it seems to be growing in popularity spelling bad news for youngsters and medical professionals alike.

Damage to The Body

Heavy use can deplete the body’s stores of vitamin B12, causing anaemia and nerve damage. Other side effects might include numbness, tingling and shooting pains in the limbs.

Dr Anna-Maria Rollin, Royal College of Anaesthetists explained: “Breathing in high concentrations of laughing gas can quickly reduce the blood’s level of oxygen. On a night out, in an uncontrolled environment, there is a risk that people can start feeling sleepy as they inhale the gas and pass out. The risk of brain damage just isn’t worth it as far as I can tell.”

In fact, Police forces across the UK have expressed fears the drug is becoming more widely available because it’s cheap and accessible.

Concerns in Bradford

Ms Buncy told Asian Sunday: “It became apparent coming to work during lockdown there seemed to be a lot of viles and cannisters appearing, even in the field next to our centre. Obviously, this was of concern as we work mostly with young people.

“A quick look at Snapchat, Instagram or even ebay will show you how easy it is to get hold of laughing gas in the form of balloons for example. That’s not illegal of course, but it gives people a loophole to get their fix. And of course, adults will use this as well. This can easily spiral out of control until that ‘high’ has to be replaced by another’.

“You can buy viles or balloons for under £5, and there doesn’t seem to be an age restriction. We’d just like to see the regulations tightened up.”

BBC Look North

One young user told BBC’s Look North Programme in Yorkshire, he used it just to get the high, adding: “I’ve now stopped taking it but know people who have had a heart attack within 10 to 30 seconds of using it.”

Asian Sunday has learned back in June, a Bradford resident cleared up 670 nitrous oxide canisters left by a group of friends in Judy Woods.

Questions to Ministers

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley has put written questions to ministers about the use of laughing gas in the Bradford area. The MP asked if cabinet members had anything in place to educate people on the dangers of nitrous oxide inhalation and if they had made an assessment of the use of N20 across the country.

The Minister of State for Crime, Kit Malthouse said in response: “Public Health England continues to provide information on the dangers of nitrous oxide through FRANK and support in schools. FRANK, the government’s drug information and advisory website, provides information on a wide range of drugs, including advice on what to do if people are concerned about their own use of the drug, or someone else’s use. It is regularly updated in response to changing patterns of drug use and emerging information. FRANK also signposts users to support services and provides a 24 hour free-to-use confidential helpline, text and email message services and online chat. FRANK offers information about nitrous oxide covering the risks of use, including taking it with alcohol.

Chris Philp, the home office and justice minister, added: “To identify the number of prosecutions specifically for use of nitrous oxide under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 would require a manual search of court records as this level of detail (specific substance) is not held within the courts proceedings database; which would be of disproportionate cost.”

Protecting the Young

Sofia added: “Mapping where the issue around misuse of Nitrous Oxide is prevalent will help us as a city to monitor the spread and prevalence of the issue, target resources and interventions and to work with local communities to develop effective preventative programmes.

“Our campaign is not about criminalising young people. It’s about protecting them and giving them a fair shot at their futures where many may already be living in disadvantaged situations.”

West Yorkshire Police officers and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson, has said he’d like to see a more robust line taken over the drug adding: “Education must continue to play a central role in addressing the root causes associated with nitrous oxide abuse and the potentially harmful effects on young people.”

Members of the public are invited to help by sending pictures of any canisters they spot across the district. Please include the street name and postcode of where you saw it and send to: noxgas@khidmat.org.uk