Why Hippy Crack Is Nothing to Laugh About

Hippy crack and laughing gas is the name people give to nitrous oxide when taken recreationally. Nitrous oxide is a gas used in medical and dental procedures, however, it’s become increasingly popular with people looking for the quick, short-term high it provides. But what exactly is it, and is it safe to use?

In this article, we take a look at what hippy crack is and whether it’s legal or not. We’ll explore the prevalence of nitrous oxide use across the UK and look at some of the ways laughing gas is being abused, as well as how it is used legally. 

The article will also delve into the risks associated with nitrous oxide including the negative side effects and long-term effects of use. The article will conclude by exploring the dangers of mixing other substances with nitrous oxide and explain how people can get help if they are struggling with laughing gas abuse.

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What Exactly Is Hippy Crack and Is It Illegal?

Hippy crack is nitrous oxide, a colourless gas used in various medical and dental procedures. It’s also sometimes referred to as laughing gas, a nod to the euphoric feeling it can give some people. 

Nitrous oxide can be used to dull pain and also acts as a mild sedative. As such, it’s commonly used, mixed with oxygen, during various medical procedures as well as by women in labour. It is also sometimes used as a fuel additive, and as a food additive, most commonly used as a propellant for whipped cream. 

Sold as laughing gas and hippy crack, there is a growing market for recreational use. People typically purchase pressurised metal canisters of hippy crack, which are then inhaled. Typically people empty the canister contents into a balloon and then inhale the gas from the balloon. Inhaling straight from the canister is not a good idea. Because it is pressurised when released it’s dangerously cold and can damage your throat, lungs, and heart. 

But is nitrous oxide illegal? It is classed as a psychoactive substance, meaning it is covered under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. This means it is illegal to give it away or sell it for recreational use. While there is no penalty for possession of laughing gas under the Psychoactive Substances Act, supply or production can result in up to 7 years of imprisonment and an unlimited fine. In addition, landlords or bar owners in charge of premises where police have found people illegally supplying drugs can also be prosecuted under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

It’s also worth noting that, much like driving under the influence of alcohol, it is illegal to drive while you are under the influence of a psychoactive substance like nitrous oxide. Driving while taking a hippy crack can result in a fine, driving ban or prison sentence. 

How Big of a Problem Is Nitrous Oxide in the UK?

According to the latest ONS data, hippy crack or nitrous oxide ‘has become one of the most commonly abused substances in England and Wales’, which is particularly noticeable among young people. 

The latest release found that while only 2.4% of adults aged 16 – 59 years said they used nitrous oxide in the past year, that figure jumped to 8.7% for those aged 16 – 24 years.

This data means laughing gas is now the second most commonly abused drug for people aged 16 – 24, after cannabis. It’s also the third most abused drug among those aged 16 to 59 years, after cannabis and cocaine.

How Is Nitrous Oxide Being Abused?

Nitrous oxide, also commonly referred to as hippy crack and laughing gas, is being abused recreationally for the short high it provides. 

Typically, people transfer the gas from the canister into a balloon and inhale the contents. Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the canister is dangerous and can result in health complications including burns, throat muscle spasms and breathing issues. 

Popular with younger people, laughing gas and hippy crack is commonly abused on nights out, at clubs and during festivals.

How Is Nitrous Oxide Used Legally?

Nitrous oxide, sometimes called hippy crack or laughing gas, also has legitimate uses. When mixed with oxygen it is used for analgesia and as an anaesthetic.

You might have heard of the phrase ‘gas and air’, commonly used by women during labour as well as during dental surgeries and in settings like hospitals and ambulances. When used in this scenario, large cylinders will be administered to the patient using a face mask or mouthpiece. 

Nitrous oxide is also a food additive which is most commonly used as a propellant for whipped cream. It can also be used in vehicle engines.

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Are There Risks to Nitrous Oxide?

Like many other psychoactive substances, nitrous oxide use can result in short-term side effects, including: 

  • Sweating 
  • Shivering
  • Feeling or being sick 
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness 
  • Headaches
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations 
  • Sound distortion

Side effects can be worsened when the hippy crack is inhaled directly from the canister or interventions, such as putting a plastic bag over your head, are introduced. 

Taking too much nitrous oxide can cause you to become unconscious and suffocate from a lack of oxygen. According to the ONS, between 2001 and 2020, there were 56 registered deaths involving nitrous oxide in England and Wales and 45 of those deaths have happened since 2010. 

What Are the Methods of Use?

Laughing gas or hippy crack is typically inhaled, either from a canister directly (which is very dangerous) or from a balloon.

Negative Side Effects of Hippy Crack

Because it has legal uses, is easily purchased and the high doesn’t last for very long, many people think hippy crack or nitrous oxide is largely safe to use. Unfortunately, abusing laughing gas is associated with many negative side effects including:

  • Hallucinations 
  • Paranoia 
  • Sound distortion 
  • Becoming unconscious
  • Suffocating from lack of oxygen 
  • Death 

Use over the long term can also lead to B12 deficiency, and anaemia and stop your white blood cells from forming properly. 

Long-Term Effects of Hippy Crack Abuse

Long-term use of nitrous oxide can lead to side effects including: 

  • Deficiency of vitamin B12
  • Anaemia
  • Interfere with white blood cells forming properly

A severe deficiency in B12 can cause nerve damage. You may notice this through tingling or numbness in your fingers or toes. Eventually, it can make walking difficult and can even lead to paralysis. Unfortunately, the damage can persist in some cases. 

Is It Dangerous to Mix Hippy Crack With Other Drugs?

While people do it, mixing nitrous oxide with other psychoactive substances is dangerous. Mixing hippy crack with alcohol is particularly dangerous, as it can increase the risks of both substances and lead to more chances of an accident happening. 

Getting Help

There are anecdotal stories of people developing cravings for nitrous oxide, so it may well be possible to become dependent on it. However, the evidence on laughing gas addiction is currently quite limited. 

Nevertheless, you are the best person to judge your addiction to nitrous oxide. If you are experiencing cravings, or want to continue using laughing gas despite it causing you or others harm, you could have a problem.

At Castle Craig, we have helped over 10,000 patients beat their addictions. We have a team of medical doctors, nurses and therapists on hand to help you work through a personalised addiction program


What Is Hippie Crack?

Hippy crack, also known as laughing gas, is nitrous oxide. It’s a colourless gas often used in medical and dental procedures, as well as as a food additive. It usually comes in a metal canister. When used recreationally, people empty the canister into a balloon and then inhale the gas from the balloon. 
Its medicinal properties mean it can dull pain and act as a mild sedative. It can also make people feel relaxed, calm and even euphoric and it is the latter that people using it recreationally are typically looking for. Unfortunately, it can also cause hallucinations, headaches and paranoia.

How Damaging Is Nitrous Oxide?

Abusing nitrous oxide can lead to a whole host of negative health effects in both the short and long term. In the short term, you could experience sweating, headaches, paranoia, hallucinations and sickness. In the long-term, it could cause severe vitamin B12 deficiency, and anaemia and interfere with your white blood cells forming properly. 
Taking too much nitrous oxide can result in unconsciousness and suffocation from a lack of oxygen.

Is Laughing Gas Illegal in England?

Nitrous oxide is classed as a psychoactive substance, so it’s covered under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. While there is no penalty for possession, it is illegal to give it away or sell it. It’s also illegal to drive while you’re under the influence of a psychoactive substance like nitrous oxide. 

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