Police in Dacorum are warning the public about the dangers of nitrous oxide following an increase in reports of people using the drug in Hemel Hempstead.
Police officers have recently received information about groups of people regularly gathering on Blackbirds Moor, near Boxmoor Cricket Club, where they are inhaling the gas.
Sergeant Paul Conway, who leads the Hemel Hempstead North, Rural, West and Central Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “We have been made aware of young people congregating on Blackbirds Moor where they are believed to be taking nitrous oxide.
“Young people must realise that this seemingly harmless activity can actually cause serious damage to their health, or worse. It is important that we raise awareness of this potentially dangerous activity and we ask families to support us by talking to their children about the risks.
“As part of our response to this issue, we are including this area on our patrol plans even more frequently and are working closely with local councillors to crack down on this activity.
“The use of nitrous oxide is not illegal, however selling or giving it away for recreational purposes is prohibited. Those who are found to be doing so can face a fine and a prison sentence of up to seven years.”
While nitrous oxide is not a dangerous substance if used correctly, it can become addictive. The gas is usually used for medical purposes and is always given with oxygen or air under supervision.
But if taken incorrectly the user may risk injury, or even death, from lack of oxygen.
This is because when it enters the lungs, the gas displaces the air and temporarily prevents as much – or in some cases, any – oxygen getting into the blood.
The act of ingesting the gas is called ‘ballooning’ as users often use a balloon to capture the nitrous oxide from the canister before inhaling.
The drug’s effects can vary from person to person but the most common are dizziness, a feeling of euphoria, sounds becoming distorted and hallucinations.
When used on a long-term basis, it can lead to a number of health issues including incontinence and nerve damage.
If you have any information about particular areas where you believe people may be using nitrous oxide, please contact police.