Use of laughing gas among youth ‘out of control’


As more and more teenagers inhale laughing gas, one youth leader calls for a ban in Flanders

A growing concern

More and more young people in Flanders are using small canisters of nitrous oxides, also known as laughing gas, to get high. The pressurised canisters are readily available in shops as well as online.

Pieter Debaets, director of recreation park De Ster in the East Flemish town of Sint-Niklaas, told De Standaard that the empty canisters are everywhere. “One a sunny day we find at least 300 emptied canisters around the park,” he said. “It’s really a plague. This is getting completely out of control.”

The pressured canisters containing the gas can freely be purchased online as well as in stores. They are traditionally used to whip cream as well as for home brewing. When used as a drug, the gas is generally tranferred to a balloon before being inhaled.

If someone who’s standing nearby lights a cigarette, it can result in serious burns

- VAD director Marijs Geirnaert

When inhaled, the gas induces a brief period of intoxication. It can also lead to hallucinations, a slower response time and balance disorders. Debaets called on the government to introduce a ban on the sale of nitrous oxide.

In the absence of a ban, some towns have turned to administrative sanctions to discourage youths from using the canisters. Mechelen mayor Bart Somers, for instance, recently introduced a fine of €350 for anyone caught dealing or using nitrous oxide.

In Ninove, East Flanders, local retailers have signed a charter in which they promise not to sell nitrous oxide canisters or lighter fluid to minors, and to keep the products behind the register rather than stock them in store aisles.

VAD, the Flemish expertise centre for addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling, has previously warned that the nitrous oxide canisters can be dangerous – especially for very young and inexperienced users. “Especially because of the risk of explosions, VAD director Marijs Geirnaert told De Standaard. “If someone who’s standing nearby lights a cigarette, it can result in serious burns.”

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