I’m in crippling pain and stuck in wheelchair because of my 600 cannister a week laughing gas habit – I’m not paralysed
AS dawn broke outside London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub on Sunday morning the air was filled with the now familiar whoosh of balloons being filled with nitrous oxide.
Hundreds of wide-eyed clubbers jostled to get a hit of the laughing gas, also known as Nos, or Hippy Crack — which is more popular than ever now it is sold in supersized canisters 80 times larger than a regular dose.
From festivals to house parties to clubs, it is the new drug of choice — and easy to buy legally.
One 27-year-old told us: “It’s moreish as hell. Everyone’s doing the big canisters now to get more bangs for your buck.
“The buzz only lasts about 15 seconds, but then you want another hit. It’s cheaper than a pint and there’s no hangover.”
Experts call the new craze “terrifying” due to its severe health effects, including an epidemic of spinal cord and nerve damage.
Reports of its effects are so alarming that even the liberal Netherlands — where cannabis is sold legally in coffee shops — is banning the gas from January, apart from medical and food industry use.
And it is possible our Government will follow suit by banning retail sales.
The Home Office is waiting for a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on the issue and has promised it will “consider the advice carefully”.
While nitrous oxide is relatively harmless in small doses, inhaling directly from a large canister can be fatal, while regular heavy use can cause permanent nerve damage and lasting paralysis.
Neurologist Dr Nikos Evangelou told The Sun: “I’ve seen two young people completely paralysed, unable to walk. I’m seeing five to six youngsters a week on average with some degree of damage. It’s tragic and terrifying.
“Many of those with early symptoms — tingling hands and feet and unsteadiness — don’t seek help. They need to know this is the start of something incredibly serious, and they need to stop before permanent damage is done.”
Sarah Smith, 19, (not her real name) is one of many users who have suffered scary after-effects after inhaling Nos from balloons with pals at a house party.
The admin assistant lost feeling in her legs and went on to suffer serious health problems. She knows she was lucky not to be paralysed.
Her mum, a 46-year-old data manager, said: “Sarah said all her mates were taking it so she joined in. But a few minutes later someone asked her why she was walking strangely and she realised she had no feeling in her legs.
“Over the next few weeks she had shudders in her body, got really tired, had bad pins and needles and started smelling rubber when nobody else could.”
Sarah said all her mates were taking it so she joined in. But a few minutes later someone asked her why she was walking strangely and she realised she had no feeling in her legs.
Fearing her daughter may have a brain tumour, Sarah’s mum took her for an eye exam, then blood tests.
They showed she had extremely low levels of vitamin B, a common disorder in Nos users, which causes neurological problems if untreated. A gruelling regime of injections followed to restore her health.
In June, 16-year-old Alex Littler suffered a ruptured lung after inhaling laughing gas at the Parklife festival in Manchester. The school-boy, from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, was rushed to hospital after complaining of a swollen neck, breathlessness and that his chest felt like “popping bubble wrap” when touched, due to the air leaking from his damaged lung.
Makers of the gas — used in the catering industry to make whipped cream and as an anaesthetic for hospital and dental patients — say a ban on its misuse is needed.
It is already illegal to knowingly supply the gas to anyone under 18 or to supply it for human consumption. Those caught face a maximum seven-year jail term.
Trade body The British Com-pressed Gases Association last month wrote to Home Secretary Suella Braverman asking for a ban on all direct consumer sales.
They are concerned that the old, smaller, silver nitrous oxide pods that contained only enough gas to fill one balloon have been replaced by canisters that can fill as many as 100, making it easy to overdose.
Currently the gas can widely be bought online or on the high street. Industrial-sized canisters cost around £29.99. One manufacturer, Amsterdam-based Fast Gas, says its product is “the easiest-to-use cream charger to make the perfect whipped cream or foams for beverages.”
- One in 11 people aged 16-24 took Nos in year to March 2020 in England & Wales – up from one in 16 in year to March 2013
- 2.3% of adults aged 16-59 in England & Wales had used it (around 763,000 people)
- Possession is not illegal but anyone supplying it to under-18s faces up to seven years in jail
But the website adds: “We find your privacy very important, for this reason we do not use logos on the box. So nobody can see where the order is placed. It arrives anonymous at your doorstep, or if you order for a friend at his of course. #just asking for a friend!”
Nos is now the second most commonly misused substance after cannabis among youngsters. In the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, one in 11 people aged 16 to 24 said they took nitrous oxide in the year to March 2020.
That compares to one in 16 in the year to March 2013. Evidence of its widespread misuse can be seen across parks and pavements nationwide, and the blight of discarded canisters has led some councils to take action.
In Sandwell, West Midlands, councillors this month granted powers to cops and street wardens to confiscate nitrous oxide canisters and issue fines of up to £100.
Burnley Borough Council has also introduced crackdown powers, and in Durham there have been calls for new laws.
Authorities in Coventry say “terrifying” numbers of students have been admitted to local hospitals. Earlier this year Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at University Hospital in Birmingham, went viral on TikTok after he shared his concern about the Nos “epidemic”.
He said: “This stuff is dangerous. Seven years ago this was a neurological rarity. Even a couple of years ago I was seeing cases maybe once a month, now I’m seeing them every week.”
Since 2001 nitrous oxide has been linked to 56 deaths — and countless lives ruined.
Kerry-Anne Donaldson has been left in crippling pain and can only leave her house in a wheelchair after getting through up to 600 canisters a week.
The 25-year-old former receptionist from Newham, East London, first took Nos at a party aged 18 and said: “I knew you could buy laughing gas legally so I didn’t think it would do any harm.
“My first time was a huge rush, lots of laughing and feeling like life was great.
“After that, every time I went to a party I’d always ask if anyone had any and I’d have a few more balloons. I never thought it could cause any health problems or become addictive.
“But by the time I was 20 I was doing them more and more, and soon I was buying online to do it at home on my own. It was affordable and almost easier to buy than alcohol. Nobody ever asked for ID.
“Soon I was using over 200 canisters a weekend, equivalent to hundreds of balloons, and never socially. I was sat in my bedroom alone, getting high.
“I became depressed and had to quit my job. Then I noticed a horrible tingling in my arms and legs which wouldn’t go away. I woke up one morning and couldn’t stand up.”
Soon I was using over 200 canisters a weekend, equivalent to hundreds of balloons, and never socially. I was sat in my bedroom alone, getting high.
Kerry-Anne’s older sister Katy took her to hospital, where medics said the nitrous oxide had starved her body of oxygen. They put her on vitamin B12 injections.
But they had little effect, and she continued: “The damage appeared to have been done. I had to use crutches to get around.
“In January this year I was in so much pain and scans showed I had nerve damage in my lower back, which the doctor said was almost certainly a result of the tens of thousands of balloons I’d done.
“I’m now reliant on my dad to cook for me and be my carer.
“I know there’s no way of reversing the damage I’ve done, and feel like my life’s over — and I’m only 25.
“I want to share my story to warn others that laughing gas can ruin lives. By the time the damage is done, it’s too late.”
SECRET HABIT IN LOO
TV presenter Trisha Goddard’s daughter Billie Dee Gianfrancesco admits she became addicted to Nos balloons, often doing more than 600 in a weekend.
Now in recovery from drug abuse, the mental health support worker, who was in reality TV’s The Bridge in 2020, says the gas is more addictive than cocaine.
Billie, 32, from Waltham-stow, East London, said: “I started doing the occasional balloon at parties aged about 16 but never thought it could be harmful.
“After all, you could buy them in shops and online, and it was legal. I enjoyed the buzz, the instant euphoria.
“I then went on to use other drugs, including weed, coke and MDMA, but when I was in my mid-20s I decided to use balloons instead, as they were much cheaper.
“I also knew I had a problem with harder drugs and wanted a clean, healthy high. But I had no idea how addictive they could be. Within weeks I was doing dozens every night, and hundreds at weekends.
“It really wasn’t a sociable drug. I’d sit in my room and bang out hundreds of balloons. I often got to the point where I couldn’t eat, drink or speak. I’d hallucinate and pass out. The moment the high passed, I’d do another, then another.
“I knew I was out of control but didn’t want to admit it. Once my mum asked why I was coughing in the toilet – I’d sneaked away to do more balloons.
“I’ve been in drug and alcohol recovery since then and of all the drugs I’ve done, nitrous oxide is the most addictive and potentially the most destructive – because you don’t think it’s either.
“It sucks you in, takes you away from real life and leaves you with horrible side-effects.
“I know now how lucky I am to have escaped with no long-term effects – I’ve seen loads of other people whose lives have been ruined.”