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You may have fun at a festival, but nitrous oxide is no laughing matter.

The serious side of ‘hippie crack’—is laughing gas still funny?

Did you know that the clean-up from Glastonbury festival takes six weeks to complete?

The days when people took their rubbish home are gone; an estimated 1,650 tonnes of waste are left behind. Among the mountain of debris and waste will be two tonnes of empty steel canisters—bullet-shaped, shiny and six centimetres long. These once contained nitrous oxide. or ‘hippie crack’.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) was first synthesised in 1772. Although developments throughout the 1780s and 90s hinted at its potential as an anaesthetic, it was not used for surgical pain relief until the mid-nineteenth century. Instead, its primary application from 1799 onwards was in ‘laughing gas parties’ for the upper-classes. Now, two centuries later, N2O is used in rocket propellants, internal combustion engine fuel, medicine, food-grade aerosols… and laughing gas parties.

For a company specialising in gas detection systems for personal safety such as Analox, it is easy to see the danger of inhaling too much N2O. Although it is a safe gas when used under carefully controlled conditions, if misused for recreational purposes it is extremely hazardous. It is, therefore, sad—but unsurprising—to hear of the recent death of a 22-year-old user in Brighton. More than 200 empty N2O canisters were found in his room.

Regular non-medical inhalation of nitrous oxide is believed to cause nerve damage, chronic pain and partial immobility. A serious user may pay the ultimate price for extended exposure; the official cause of death would no doubt be asphyxiation. The number of N2O-related deaths in the UK is thought to be at least seventeen so far. Yet despite their obvious dangers, cheap nitrous oxide canisters are still widely available and are classed as a ‘legal high’.

Update: It is now illegal to produce and distribute psychoactive substances

Author: Paul Smith, Technical Writer

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Founded in 1981, Analox Sensor Technology provides niche and custom gas detection solutions to industries including beverage and fast food, commercial diving and laboratories. Analox has over 325 years of collective, specialist electronics and software engineering expertise, as well as a worldwide distributor network. Contact us to see how we can provide expert gas monitoring solutions and help you achieve your goals.

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