Nitrous oxide was made a Class C drug by the Government on Wednesday (November 8) meaning it is now illegal to be in possession of laughing gas with the intention of getting high. 

Dealers who peddle nitrous oxide – nicknamed “hippy crack” – now face up to 14 years behind bars, while those, repeat offenders, caught in possession with the intent to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect could receive a sentence of up to two years in jail.

Consequences for disobeying the ban include an unlimited fine, community sentences or, for repeat serious offenders, a prison term.

It will still be possible to use the gas for legitimate reasons, such as catering, pain relief during labour or in model rockets.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of the gas and not intending to wrongfully inhale it.

But you may be thinking what is nitrous oxide and is it the same as laughing gas? Don't worry, we have all the answers for you.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a colourless, "sweet-tasting" gas discovered by Joseph Priestly in 1772.

When inhaled it can produce "euphoria, mild perceptual changes and uncontrollable laughter, which last for a short period of time (30 seconds to 1 minute)", according to the website

Is nitrous oxide laughing gas?

Laughing gas is just another name for nitrous oxide.

The name is based on the side effects that come from inhaling nitrous oxide, most notably the uncontrollable laughter. 

What is nitrous oxide used for?

Nitrous oxide is used in a number of areas across the UK including the medical, food and academic sectors.

The uses for Nitrous Oxide, according to the website, include:

  • Anaesthetic and analgesic in medical, dental and veterinary settings
  • Food additive
  • Technological functions (including as a propellant gas for whipping cream, packaging gas, foaming agent and antioxidant)
  • Extraction solvent (for example: to remove caffeine from coffee to make decaffeinated coffee, extract fats, oils and specific proteins from raw ingredients)
  • As a component of rocket fuel and an additive to fuels used in car racing
  • Propellant in model rockets
  • Academic research
  • Refrigerant, leak-detecting agent
  • Oxidising agent
  • Chemical reagent

What are the side effects of nitrous oxide? 

There are a number of side effects that can come from using nitrous oxide. 

Some of the more severe side effects, according to, include:

  • Death
  • Poisoning
  • Neurological harm
  • Cardiovascular harm (including thromboembolic events)
  • Respiratory issues
  • Reproductive impairments (this was mostly before occupational measures such as maximum exposure limits for nitrous oxide were introduced)
  • Addiction
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety

Other less severe, more common, side effects include mild intoxication and uncontrollable laughing.