Information about nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide balloons

Nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) is a colourless gas sold in canisters, usually inhaled using a balloon.

This page has been created to help individuals find out more about the substance and:

  • the health risks associated with taking it and where you can get help
  • what the law says
  • what the Council and partners are doing to tackle the issue
  • how to report nitrous oxide canister litter in Solihull
  • how to report a concern that a business or individual is selling the substance in Solihull
  • find help and useful resources 
Nitrous oxide cannisters

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas mostly sold in pressurised metal canisters. People open the canister, transfer the gas into a container (usually a balloon), then inhale from the balloon.

It is also referred to as blue whip, smart whip, balloons, NOS, whippits, laughing gas, hippie crack, chargers, noz.

Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia. This can lead to serious nerve damage, causing tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. This can be very painful and make walking difficult. In extreme cases long term use can even lead to paralysis.

Find out what happened to Olivia after taking nitrous oxide.

Other health risks include:

  • Falling unconscious and/or suffocating from lack of oxygen. People have died this way
  • Dizziness, which might make users act carelessly or dangerously
  • Regular use can stop you forming white blood cells properly
  • If you have too much you can end up fainting, having an accident or worse

Nitrous oxide is a psychoactive drug (a drug which affects the mind) and is covered by the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, this means it is illegal to give away or sell it for its psychoactive effect.

Supply and production can mean up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence. People have been injured and killed in road accidents caused by inhaling balloons whilst driving.

Solihull Council is working with ward councillors, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, NHS health services and through its environmental team Love Solihull, to better understand who is using nitrous oxide, where they are using it and the extent of the issue.

The council is committed to reducing the harms from alcohol and drug use such as nitrous oxide, which is explained in the national Harm to Hope strategy.

Solihull Integrated Addiction Services (SIAS) who run alcohol and drug addiction support services on behalf of the council has developed a programme of work targeted at young people. It is looking to run engagement and awareness sessions with schools and youth organisations to explain the risks of nitrous oxide.  In addition, SIAS is organising monthly litter picking in affected areas in collaboration with community groups such as Talking Rubbish.

Schools, youth organisations, and community groups can book sessions with SIAS via email

Training sessions are also available for professionals and volunteers working with teenagers and young adults.

To find out more about the work SIAS is doing you can visit their website.

Empty nitrous oxide canisters are a litter and public safety concern, often being found on roadsides, in parks, on open spaces and on private land. 

  • Dropping litter or dumping unwanted items or rubbish (fly-tipping) is illegal
  • Canisters are potentially dangerous to wildlife and young children
  • We want to know when you come across used nitrous oxide canisters
  • Knowing where and how many canisters there are will help us understand the extent of the problem across Solihull
  • Please use the online form to tell us if you have found canisters

Report nitrous oxide litter

You can also report discarded canisters by calling Solihull Connect on 0121 704 8000.

Used canisters will be collected and then separated from general litter and will be recycled at the Household Waste and Recycling Centre.

Individuals and organisations can also bring cannisters to the Household Waste and Recycling Centre themselves. You will need to book a slot before visiting.

Any concerns about the selling of nitrous oxide can be reported to Citizens Advice who will notify Trading Standards UK. The Citizens Advice consumer helpline number is 0808 223 1133 or you can contact the team by completing the online form.

Alternatively, you can report any concerns directly to the Council’s Trading Standard team by calling 0121 704 8001.