The recreational use of nitrous oxide – commonly known as 'laughing gas' –  becomes illegal this week.

From Wednesday, November 8, it becomes an offence to use nitrous oxide for recreational purposes. Anyone who does could face up to two years in prison, under new laws.

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas sold in canisters, usually inhaled using a balloon.

The ban is part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, which makes nitrous oxide a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Under the new legislation anyone found guilty of supplying the drug for recreational use could be jailed for up to 14 years.

Secondary legislation will mean possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it – for example ‘to get high’ – will be an offence.

For more information on nitrous oxide visit

Hertfordshire Constabulary has issued guidance over the ban.

Community Safety Inspector Nicola Dean said: “Nitrous oxide is frequently linked to antisocial behaviour within the community and often leaves empty canisters littered across public spaces including children’s play areas.

Heavy, regular use also poses significant health risks for users, who are predominantly young people and can cause nerve damage, paralysis or asphyxiation. It has been linked to potentially fatal incidents of drug driving.

“There are still many necessary uses for nitrous oxide and those with a legitimate reason for possessing the substance will be exempt from the ban.

"Licences will not be required to carry it, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not intending to consume it for psychoactive effects.

"The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has now doubled, from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.”

Consequences for breaking the new laws could include:

  • an unlimited fine
  • a visible community punishment
  • a conditional caution – which would appear on your criminal record
  • a community resolution
  • a prison sentence for repeat serious offenders.