Nitrous oxide is a drug used in clinical settings for the purposes of anaesthesia and sedation. Because of these effects, nitrous oxide has also been used recreationally. Gas cartridges (also known as bulbs, nangs or whippets) containing the clear, colourless gas are typically discharged into another object such as a balloon, or inhaled directly, creating effects such as euphoria, heightened consciousness, disassociation and excitement shortly after injestion.
Whilst the majority of people who use it do so infrequently and do not experience harm, potential harms from heavy nitrous oxide use can include depletion of Vitamin B12 and associated potential for peripheral neuropathy. While deaths from nitrous oxide use are rare, those that do occur are mainly due to hypoxia or accidents or injuries.
Research indicates that the use of nitrous oxide may be increasing, and calls have been made fo further research into the prevalence of its use and associated harms amongst people who use drugs.
This bulletin examines trends in its use among samples of people who regularly use ecstasy and other illicit stimulants surveyed as part of the Queensland Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System between 2003-2020.