NOS Containers in UK
NOS canisters are a common sight in the streets of the UK | © Zako / Shutterstock

Nitrous Oxide, NOS, laughing gas, balloons – whatever name you give to it you’d recognise those silver canisters anywhere. 

Perhaps trampling through them on a Sunday morning makes you reminisce about your teenage years spent gasping from balloons to get that fifteen second rush. Or perhaps the sight just makes you roll your eyes and wonder what kids today are coming to when they get their kicks from a whipped cream gas cracker.

Either way, we don’t care… it’s really none of our business.

Some say it’s the safest high while others say it causes brain damage

What our business (sort of) is the safety aspect of the stuff.

There’s a whole lot of hype surrounding NOS – some say it’s the safest high out there whilst others see it as a one-way ticket to permanent (and fatal) brain damage. 

If you’ve ever found yourself googling ‘is NOS actually dangerous?’, you’ve probably left the whole experience a hell of a lot more confused than you were when you started it.

But look no further. We’ve done the scrolling for you to work out the answer to the question we’ve all been dying to know since we turned fifteen… Is Nitrous Oxide genuinely bad for your health?

Short answer: it depends.

To give you the basics, Nitrous Oxide is a legal high so there’s generally no penalty for possessing it, though selling or distributing can leave you with a hefty jail sentence

What this means is that although it’s classed as a ‘psychoactive substance’, its health risks have been assessed to be lower than those of other illegal highs like MDMA or Ketamine. 

This isn’t to say that it’s totally safe though, far from it.

NOS Pills
NOS has less severe legal restrictions than other party drugs | © More Than Production / Shutterstock

Cases of young people dying from the stuff crop up year after year at festivals and raves, which is in part due to the youthful age group it attracts, and in part because people tend to underestimate its effects. 

When you don’t know how your body will react to it, it can be fatal

People tend to do the drug by ‘cracking’ a canister into a balloon and breathing in the gas by panting like you ran for the bus.

side effects of nos useage
NOS usage leads to a rapid lack of oxygen that makes users dizzy and lightheaded  | © AofLine / Shutterstock

Inexperienced users sometimes make the mistake of inhaling the gas directly from the canister – a dangerous misstep because this is more likely to result in unconsciousness, suffocation, or a nasty case of something known as ‘cryo-burn’.

Ouch. 

Then you have the added risk of not knowing your limits. First time party goers keen to get as wasted as the kids from ‘Skins’ are liable to crack multiple canisters into the same balloon or mix the stuff with a night’s worth of booze.

Again, this doesn’t tend to be a fatal mistake, but when you don’t know how your body will react to the stuff, it certainly has the potential to be.  

In the short-term, NOS can cause users to experience a rapid lack of oxygen (called hypoxia) which can have a whole range of effects spanning the minor (dizziness and lightheadedness) to the major (fits or heart attacks).

In part, this is down to doing too much, too quickly.

Equally, some people just react badly to the stuff, which is a risk you run when deciding to take any drug.

In the long-term, negative side effects of NOS are increasingly likely. Anyone who’s watched ‘Top Boy’ will probably be familiar with the Dris Reddit conspiracies which claim that the character’s stroke was a side effect of one too many balloons.

They’re probably not far from the truth. 

NOS starves the brain of oxygen, meaning it can lead to a stroke

NOS starves the brain of Oxygen, meaning it can lead to a stroke in more severe cases.
With long-term usage, it can also cause vitamin B-12 depletion (leading to brain and nerve damage) along with memory loss, numbness of the limbs, a weakened immune system, and even psychosis (among other psychological issues).

In terms of fake news, it can’t crystallise in your lungs and it won’t leave you cackling like a hyena (most likely).

It also wears off pretty quickly (anywhere from ten seconds to thirty minutes if administered at a medical institution).

Despite the lightheadedness it gives you, you probably won’t be spilling all your deepest, darkest secrets under the influence of the gas (another common misconception).

nitrous oxide balloons kit
NOS users inhale the drug from balloons | © Anna Jurkovska / Shutterstock

So there you have it. Nitrous Oxide is bad for you (provided you don’t use it with care).

It’s a drug, so what did you expect?

Sure, it runs less risks than its Class A counterparts, but you shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because you can buy it off your mum’s Amazon account.

From here, what you do with this information is up to you. As we said, it’s none of our business.