NOS balloons

The dentist can be pretty traumatising, which is why they usually put you on Nitrous Oxide if they need to do anything serious. This gas makes you laugh so that everything is funny. That way you forget about the pain. Given these magical powers, it’s no surprise that the dentist isn’t the only place you’ll find it. Read on to find out more.

A young woman is sitting at a desktop. She is looking up nos balloons. This is a wide-angle image.

What is nitrous oxide?  

Laughing gas, or hippy crack is a colourless, sweet-smelling gas that makes you all giggly.

Its chemical name is Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and it’s ‘supposed’ to be used to relieve pain at the dentist, or to make cake icing or whipped cream. But then some genius realised we could take it recreationally, using nos balloons, to make ourselves laugh.

How do you take nitrous oxide? 

It’s most commonly sold as nos balloons for you to suck on. The more hardcore users inhale it straight from a canister, but it’s pretty risky as you can easily have too much.

What do nos balloons do to you?

The nos side effects are pretty simple…you laugh. But in case you wanted more, here it is: 

  • It makes you really sad and depressed… JOKING! It makes you happy and uncontrollably giggly (for example, if you’re on laughing gas right now, you’ll find this crap joke hilarious).
  • It makes any pain you’re in fade away for a while.
  • You’ll have a general feeling of floatiness.
  • Some people have mild dream-like hallucinations and hear weird sounds.

What are the bad side effects of nitrous oxide? 

  • It makes you clumsier than a drunk clown on a tricycle; lots of people fall over and hurt themselves.
  • It can make you feel like you’re gonna chun, especially if you mix it with alcohol. Plus the two combined can lead to some pretty serious uncoordinated accidents. Click here to find out more about mixing drugs.
  • Some people get an instant headache of epic proportions.
  • Too much can increase the risk of you falling unconscious.
  • Nitrous oxide also punches big fat holes in the ozone layer and contributes majorly to global warming. For more information about ethics and drugs, read our article here.

It usually hits you instantly or within a few seconds. The high itself then only lasts for a few minutes, unless you take more.

Are nos balloons addictive? 

There are some people who really crave it and take lots of lots in one go, but this isn’t the norm. Most people only use laughing gas recreationally once in a while.

For the people who get addicted, long-term use can affect your vitamin levels, particularly vitamin B12. This can numb your nerve endings, so you lose feeling in your fingers and toes. Without treatment, you can end up causing yourself permanent nerve damage.

How can I reduce the risks if I take nos balloons

The best way to reduce risk is not to take it at all, but if you plan on doing it: 

  • Sit down before doing balloons. Laughing gas screws up your motor control and it’s likely you’ll fall over and hurt your butt (or face) otherwise.
  • Don’t inhale for longer than 30 seconds. You could suffocate yourself from a lack of oxygen. That’s nothing to laugh about.
  • If you feel ‘experimental’ and like you want to put a plastic bag over your head / do it in an enclosed space to increase the high, please don’t. Lots of people have died doing this.
  • Try not to inhale nitrous oxide straight from the canister ‘cause it can give you frostbite on your face (it’s a legit thing).
  • If you’re going to take nitrous oxide be sure that you use medical or ‘food grade’ nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is also used in motoring and this grade of gas is toxic.

Probably the most important: DON’T confuse nitrous oxide with Nitric Oxide (NO), which is extremely poisonous.

Is nos illegal?  

The answer to ‘Is nos illegal?’ is kind of complicated. It’s treated as a psychoactive substance under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This means possession is legal but supplying and importing / exporting will get you an unlimited fine and jail time. 

To find out more about drugs covered under this act, click here.

Are nos balloons banned from music festivals? 

Sucking on a balloon of laughing gas used to be the norm at music festivals… but not anymore. Most of the major UK festivals have joined together in banning legal highs from their events to send out the message that they’re not safe.

Next Steps

  • FRANK offers friendly, confidential advice on all things drugs-related. Call now on 0300 123 6600
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 12-Sep-2021