Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Criminalising misuse of nitrous oxide

  1. Adam Winstock, honorary clinical professor1,
  2. David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology2
  1. 1Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A Winstock: a.winstock{at}

Criminalisation will increase harms; education is a better response

The government’s announcement in March that it plans to ban possession of nitrous oxide by making it a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 came as surprise to most experts.1 It is clearly counter to the recommendations made in its new drug policy vision that champions the diversion of young people away from the criminal justice system.2 It is also contrary to advice it received from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that class C classification would be disproportionate, given that possession of nitrous oxide with intent to supply for its psychoactive effects is already illegal under the Psychoactive Drugs Act 2016.3 Moreover, the council explicitly stated that that there was no evidence linking use of nitrous oxide with antisocial behaviour, refuting the justification of numerous government representatives,45 who cited antisocial behaviour as a major driver behind their decision.

While the discarding of nitrous bulbs (whippits) in public spaces is certainly disrespectful, its extent may have been exaggerated: a 2020 Keep Britain Tidy survey6 of litter across England did not mention nitrous oxide canisters. As other responses to littering are available—through …

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