Its time to talk to your teen about Laughing Gas & how dangerous it is

As parents, it can be difficult to keep track of the many things that pose a threat to our children. Every day, there seems to be a new danger and it is our job to keep up to date on what is out there. According to recent media, small metal canisters resembling bullets have been seen littered around areas like beaches, parks, greens and other places frequented by teenagers during COVID-19 restrictions. They may look small and harmless, but these empty canisters are the telltale sign that a new drug of choice has emerged for young people over the last year or so.

Nitrous Oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’ or ‘hippie crack’ is used in hospitals in the form of Entonox for immediate pain relief, especially in any A&E. However, a HSE survey on 1,200 festival-goers showed but more that over a quarter of them had used the gas recreationally. The current restrictions have now revealed that laughing gas is being used by a younger demographic-- teenagers.

The effects of laughing gas vary from person to person. People taking the gas hope to achieve euphoria, giddiness or even calmness. However, there are many more sinister effects associated with this trend.

Less desirable immediate effects can be:

  • disassociation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • imbalance or unsteadiness
  • disorientation
  • irritation of the respiratory tract
  • tightness of chest
  • nausea
  • short-lived paranoia
  • altered vision or hearing
  • hallucinations
  • change in blood pressure
  • sudden death due to lack of oxygen

More long-term effects include:

  • throat and lung damage
  • risk of falling or accidents
  • mood changes, feelings of depression
  • anaemia
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • vitamin B12 deficiency leading to nerve damage

According to Dr Eamon Keenan, the HSE's Clinical Lead on Addiction Services, this risks of this drug are higher for those with heart, lung or even mental health conditions and using the drug when combined with other drugs, alcohol or medication can be even more dangerous. There are also concerns regarding the quality and purity of the Nitrous Oxide that seems to be available depending on the sources. The canisters themselves can be easily bought online.

Now is the time to be proactive in your parenting. It is time to sit down and have a calm discussion with the teens in your house about the effects this drug might have. This Parent’s Guide to Drugs and Alcohol by the HSE and this Drug Watch information sheet on Nitrous Oxide will get you started.

Anna Murray is an Irish student mum to one little girl.

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