Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” is a gas that produces euphoric, painkilling effects when inhaled. Used mostly in the dental field, nitrous oxide can also be found in cooking sprays, whipped cream canisters, and internal combustion engines. Due to its easy accessibility and fast-acting high, nitrous oxide has become a popular party drug among teenagers.
In 2007, a study of inhalant dependency showed that among those who had tried illicit drugs, 11 percent (nearly 2.7 million people) had experienced inhalants during their first drug use—and nitrous oxide is no exception. Nitrous oxide dependency has become commonplace among pre-teen and teenage users, especially those in rural areas over the age of 14 years old.
Both teenage girls and boys use nitrous oxide at similar rates, making nitrous oxide one of the few drugs equally preferred by both genders. Widespread nitrous oxide use among teenagers has also been reported in other parts of the world, as well. In fact, a New Zealand survey of college students found that 12 percent have used nitrous oxide to get high, with nearly three percent using nitrous oxide at least once a month.
Recent studies have indicated that nitrous oxide use among teenagers has become an epidemic in the United States. In certain areas of the country, more teenagers have used nitrous oxide than marijuana. A 2008 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that inhalant abuse was foremost among teenagers, with 12- and 13-year-olds becoming more likely to have abused inhalants than to have experimented with marijuana or prescription drugs.
In Southern California, a Los Angeles Unified School District study showed that 17 percent of students in the seventh grade had used inhalants, while only 14 percent reported that they had used marijuana to get high. Across the state of California, eight percent of seventh graders have reported that they have used inhalants to get high.
If you know a teenager who is abusing nitrous oxide, please contact your local drug treatment center immediately. Inhalants cause massive damage to the respiratory system, posing a great danger to the lungs. In fact, inhalant abuse can starve the blood supply and tissues of oxygen, causing brain damage or death as gas is inhaled and breathing is affected.