Laughing gas in the Netherlands: Laughing gas use increased this King’s Day

Walking around Amsterdam during King’s Day, all you see are silver canisters covering the floor and groups of people with colorful signs selling balloons. But not regular balloons – they’re filled with nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas or nos in the UK).

Several fell ill in Amsterdam due to the drug on King’s Day, with ambulances showing up to 320 times during the day, reports AT5. This number also includes people feeling unwell due to alcohol consumption, but laughing gas consumption is said to have increased it.

State Secretary Blokhuis is worried about the increase in laughing gas use. He says, “we have of course also seen this reporting and take it very seriously”.

Wil van Soest, a councilor for the pensioners’ party 50Plus has urged the city to ban the sale of laughing gas under the local bylaw, reports Het Parool.

What is laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas that people inhale, usually via a balloon. The gas a very common inhalational anesthetic, but is also found in pressurized metal canisters, like whipped cream chargers. To consume it, people open the cannister (easily bought legally online), transfer the gas into a balloon and inhale the balloon.

Laughing gas cannister/ source: Flickr / ProMo-Cymru

I know you want to know, what’s the high like? It really depends on how much you inhale, according to Talk to Frank. The high lasts only around 20 seconds and could give you feelings of euphoria and calmness, as well as giggles and hallucinations. It could also give you paranoia, dizziness and even cause you to pass out – no, thanks.

What is the law on laughing gas?

Laughing gas is not technically illegal. It is illegal to sell the gas inside a balloon, but not to distribute the canisters with Nitrous Oxide inside (as these are just whipped cream chargers). Essentially, it is basically legal and easy to distribute in the Netherlands with a permit. During King’s Day, laughing gas sellers were out in the open with huge posters advertising their product.

During King’s Day, the city changes into one large free market, making it harder to control the sale of laughing gas. On a regular day, for example, a seller of laughing gas won’t be allowed for more than 15 minutes in one place without a license. Making sure people had licenses was not the priority of Amsterdam regulators, as there were other issues to deal with, according to AT5.

Still, the municipality of Amsterdam was responsible for supervising the sale of the drug, that comes under the Commodities Act. Prior to three years ago, control was much stricter under the Medicines Act.

Although the product is legal in the Netherlands, cities like Alkmaar and Hoorn have banned the sale of laughing gas canisters, even during King’s Day free market. In other major cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, sales were allowed normally. A spokesperson for the municipality of Rotterdam, says “our Events department has no known incidents or reports about the use of laughing gas during King’s Day… “Laughing gas is also legal in Rotterdam”, reports Het Parool.

What are the effects of laughing gas?

The long-term effects of laughing gas, particularly on younger people has not yet been researched. However, Talktofrank argues taking too much could lead you to suffocate from the lack of oxygen. This is the most common way people have died consuming laughing gas. Heavy use of the gas can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency which could lead to severe nerve damage of fingers and toes.

Laughing gas is dangerous and potentially fatal if consumed in exaggeration – but most drug experts argue it is hard to judge how much nitrous oxide to consume safely. So maybe laughing gas is “relatively safe”, but is a 20 second high really worth the risks? If so for you, be safe!

Source: Giphy

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments, below!

Lara Silva
Lara Silva
Originally from Lisbon, Lara now lives as a Londener where she studies journalism. She enjoys writing about politics, news and culture. Her favorite hobbies include eating pizza, drinking portuguese beer and smashing the patriarchy.


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