Police and council chiefs in Leeds are plotting a crackdown on the growing trade in laughing gas amid fears about its widespread use by young party-goers.
Concerns have been raised that the increasingly popular substance – officially called nitrous oxide and inhaled from balloons – could cause serious health problems and even death.
It is effectively legal to sell laughing gas to over-18s and there are at least three businesses openly supplying it in the city.
But Coun Mick Coulson, who has started a working group to tackle the issue of legal highs, said: “It’s a big concern. It’s a medicinal type substance that expels air from the lungs and starves the brain of oxygen and can cause brain damage or even death. We need to do something about it.”
Laughing gas, also nicknamed ‘nox’ or ‘nos’, comes in capsules and is dispensed using canisters. It makes users feel light-headed but in some cases can cause hallucinations.
Nik Powis, a 23-year-old Leeds Metropolitan University graduate, now runs Nos Boss – a business offering round-the-clock deliveries of laughing gas.
He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I haven’t heard of anyone suffering negative side-effects and I don’t see any statistics to suggest there are major health issues with it.”
However, in August a national public health warning was issued by the Local Government Association, which represents 400 councils, about potential problems.
Now, despite the fact that police cannot take action under drugs laws, officials in Leeds are exploring other potential measures to limit the supply of laughing gas and other legal highs.
A Leeds City Council spokesman said: “Consultations are currently ongoing regarding relevant local legislation which could be employed to control any supply of these substances on the streets.
“In addition, a condition prohibiting the sale or supply of so called legal highs can be taken up by anyone applying for a new premises licence or requested by the responsible authorities.”
West Yorkshire Police’s drugs co-ordinator Bryan Dent said: “Current legislation makes it illegal to sell the gas to those under 18 years of age, if there’s a belief it will be inhaled. As a coordinating group we are working with retailers to raise awareness over this issue and remind them of their responsibilities in terms of its sale.
“As with any substance that is not prescribed by a medical professional, the effects of nitrous oxide, which include starving the brain of oxygen, will be different for each person and it’s use can be potentially fatal.”