The Metropolitan Police announced on Tuesday that there would be a clampdown on the selling and use of nitrous oxide balloons, also known as laughing gas, on the streets of Brick Lane.
Users suck the gas from balloons to get a two-minute kick of euphoria. Sold for between £1 to £3 a balloon, their use is now very popular in night clubs, raves and music festivals.
Nitrous oxide is widely available and sold for use in food preparation. It is commonly used by doctors and dentists as an anaesthetic and pain reliever – though when used in a medical context it is mixed with oxygen.
Met Police are targeting the drug after a coroner linked the recreational inhalation of nitrous oxide to the death of a Hampstead student last year. Joe Bennett, 17, was inhaling the drug when he suffered a heart attack and brain damage. He was brought to hospital where he fell into a coma and died a month later.
It is not illegal to sell or ingest nitrous oxide unless sold to people under 18, therefore police in Tower Hamlets are using the charge of street vending without a license to disrupt sales.
PC Scott Manning, an officer working in Tower Hamlets told Eastlondonlines: “The concern for public safety came from the death a few months ago. When their patrols saw the balloons and realised it was nitrous oxide they looked into it further. There are no laws against using it. They are trying to make Brick lane a safer environment. “
“Currently we are working on stopping people selling them. The patrols find anybody identified with balloons and they gather information. They will seize their product from the sellers and work with the council to charge them for selling items in the street without a license.”
Drug Science, an independent scientific committee on drugs, reported the risks of using nitrous oxide: “If the user of nitrous oxide is in good health, understands the risks, and avoids dangerous methods, nitrous oxide is one of the least risky drugs.
“However, people have died from oxygen starvation when using unsafe methods to try to breathe large amounts of nitrous oxide for extended periods of time. Inhaling nitrous oxide in a dangerous way will not cause any warning symptoms until the user suddenly becomes unconscious. Then brain damage, followed by death, can occur within minutes.”
Assaf, a local resident to Brick Lane described the effect to ELL: “It’s like somebody’s cutting off your oxygen and you feel really light headed. If you close your eyes it feels like you’re not really attached to the surroundings. The first time I tried it I blacked out and fell. It can be dangerous. ”
“On the weekends you see guys and sometimes girls standing outside the clubs. It’s not something that lasts so you have to do it all of the time. People do it in the open, it’s not like they’re hiding. I don’t think they’re scared of the police.”