Life Wellbeing Nitrous oxide is no laughing matter, but a scare campaign on nangs is a gasbag

Nitrous oxide is no laughing matter, but a scare campaign on nangs is a gasbag

Are nangs really dangerous? Experts weigh in on nitrous oxide usage.
Are nangs really dangerous? Experts weigh in on nitrous oxide usage. Photo: eBay
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They’re the cheap, easy and legal drugs that induce a rush of euphoria for 20 seconds. You can even get ‘nangs’ delivered to your door.

An ABC investigation this week reported the possible dangers of nitrous oxide gas, which is inhaled through a balloon from a whipped cream cylinder. It found that extreme prolonged use can result in damage to the spinal cord.

However, experts warned The New Daily that a scare campaign would not reduce harm and could even lead to a spike in use.

Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer on addiction at Edith Cowan University, said media reports tended to spark curiosity.

“Scaring people is not the way to go. Rather, it is likely to encourage use.”

Two people have died in Australia as a result of non-medical nitrous oxide use since 2010. By comparison, alcohol kills 5500 people in Australia each year. That’s 15 deaths a day.

Dr Bright said recreational use of nitrous oxide was unlikely to cause harm.

“The use of nangs has a low potential of harm, provided harm reduction strategies are used,” he told The New Daily.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales warns of dangers like asphyxiation from nitrous oxide canisters, which is “mostly to do with the method of administration”.

Extreme cases of prolonged use can also lead to a B12 deficiency or acute mental health conditions.

Dr Bright said most people use the drug recreationally and would not become dependent.

“People do tend to have more than one ‘nang’, but are able to limit themselves given that it is often seen as a ‘kiddies’ drug and one would not spend copious amounts of money required to develop dependence.”

Melbourne woman Sam*, 25, told The New Daily she was not too concerned about possible health effects.

“There’s actually not that much information about nangs around. It’s almost like a non-drug drug. It’s almost a joke doing them,” Sam said.

Nangs are inhaled worldwide, but are known as whippets.
Nangs are inhaled worldwide, but are known as whippets, nossies, laughing gas or hippy crack. The bulbs are pictured scattered on the ground at Glastonbury Festival. Photo: Getty

“It feels like everything slows down and you’re floating on a cloud.”

She said affordability and accessibility was not what attracted her to nangs.

“It’s a fun thing to do that doesn’t have a hangover.”

Ash Blackwell, Vice President of advocacy group Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said encouraging abstinence was unrealistic and a missed opportunity to provide health messages to reduce harm.

“It’s advertising the product to new consumers with no health messaging that’s relevant to them,” Mr Blackwell said.

“A health message that is ignored by pretty much everybody is, in my opinion, not a very effective health message.”

What is a nang?

Nangs are often ordered online. The bulbs are also readily available at corner stores and service stations.

A box of 10 bulbs usually costs around $10, while the whipped cream cylinder could be upwards of $60.

Nitrous oxide, a colourless and odourless gas, is released from the bulb into the cylinder. The gas is then fed into a balloon to be inhaled.

The gas is used in medicine as a sedative and pain relief.

Who inhales nangs?

Worldwide, nangs go by the name ‘whippets’, ‘nossies’, laughing gas or hippy crack. It was first inhaled recreationally in the late 1700s in upper-class England.

The 2016 Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) said 36 per cent of ecstasy users had used nangs a median of four times over six months.

Usage was at 26 per cent in the survey the year prior, showing a potential rise in nang popularity. However, experts told The New Daily the survey was unlikely to paint a full picture of nang use as the survey only considered ecstasy users.

Readers seeking support should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, dial 000.

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