How Dangerous is Laughing Gas? (Small silver canisters)

We have noticed a growing concern on local Facebook groups about little silver canisters being found in areas teenagers hang around. We do not want to get drawn in to the social issues, and why people have chosen to use these to gain a short high, however we would like to address that concern that this craze is dangerous.

Is Laughing Gas dangerous?

We have drawn our research from a few articles, but two mainly, one from a US source, and the other from the UK’s BBC news magazine.

The two quotes we draw your attention to are:

Dr. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at SAMHSA, said inhaling nitrous oxide, or huffing as it’s sometimes called, can cut off oxygen to the brain and result in severe effects on the body’s cardiovascular system.

“What you’re concerned about is heart effects, effects on their peripheral nervous system, effects on their organ system,” said Clark.



Most of the deaths in the UK have been asphyxiations involving plastic bags, says Dr John Ramsey, a toxicologist who was part of the team that helped compile the death data, using coroner’s reports at St George’s, University of London.

As well as the danger of asphyxiation, when the gas comes out of a canister it can be so cold it can burn. A cold shock at the back of the throat can affect the vagus nerve, causing the heart rate to suddenly slow.

Researchers say that the number of people who die from inhaling nitrous oxide is actually low when compared with the number of people taking the drug every year.

So this familiar site of small silver canisters could be considered dangerous, due to the impact it has on oxygen levels in the body, causing breathing issues, and potential issues with oxygen uptake in the brain, and also the effects it has on the heart, particularly for those with undiagnosed heart conditions.

Every week in the UK, 12 people, apparently fit and healthy  – all aged 35 and under – die from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Undiagnosed Heart Conditions in Teenagers

The issues of Undiagnosed heart conditions in the young seems to be the main concern with this drug, both for parents, and the government. There is currently laws that ban legal highs which cover laughing gas in the UK. They are still legal to buy for Dentists, and for legal uses, such as for whipped cream dispensers, but illegal to sell to minors.

This risk, which is further compounded by the lack of good first aid training to teenagers in the UK, makes it increasingly likely that there could be adverse reactions to this drug, and death rates.

How can we treat the effects of laughing Gas?

It would seem the main treatment is to ensure people understand the dangers of using too much, and the risk this can have on oxygen levels and their heart. Like with any relatively harmless drug, the values of  understanding how this impacts people should be taught, so if they want to try something, they are fully aware of what to look out for, and when to stop.

In the same way we teach people not to leave a drunk person passed out on the sofa on their back, due to the risk of choking, and the values of the recovery position, we need to ensure people understand what the dangers are of this drug.

If something does go wrong!

  • Call 999 – If you are worried there is danger to life, this is always the most important thing to do first.
  • If the person is having breathing difficulties and is conscious, get them to sit in a comfortable position on the floor. Similar to the W position shown below for a heart attack sufferer, helping breathing and meaning if they do pass out, they are less likely to cause injury.


  • If the person loses consciousness, but is breathing, put them in the recovery position.

  • Be prepared to carry out CPR! If the person loses consciousness and stops breathing, call 999 and start CPR. It is reported only 40% of the population knows how to carry out CPR, and the current survival rate when a casualty needs CPR is 6-9% due to the lack of knowledge of the values of CPR.

Please ensure your children know the above. We are  happy to carry out small group first aid for friends and family, as we have on a number of occasions. If you would like to discuss this, please contact us