Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research

Nitrous oxide use among young people – new trends, policy challenges, and knowledge gaps

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Nitrous oxide (N2O) use for recreational purposes appears to have increased among young people in several countries, including Denmark, Australia, The Netherlands and the UK. This increase has prompted concern among health authorities and politicians. The purpose of this paper is to map out findings in the available literature about N2O use among young people to better understand current trends and contextualize the public concerns and the new policy responses to it.

The authors draw here on a range of sources, including research literature, reports and policy documents in English and Danish. Given the broad aim, the authors used a scoping study approach (Arksey and O’Malley, 2005).
The authors found literature on prevalence of use, health effects and policy regulations. The literature suggests that health harms associated with N2O use are generally associated with intensive and long-term use, and death is more likely where the means of administration entails a risk of suffocation. Overall, however, the analysis shows that substantial gaps exist in the available literature. The authors lack detailed knowledge on several issues, including comparable prevalence data of N2O use; the extent to which N2O is used with other drugs; how one can distinguish between harmful and non-harmful use in terms of both quantity inhaled and mode of administration; and on intended and unintended consequences of policy responses to this use.

The current increase and trend in inhaling N2O for intoxication among young people is under researched. This general review maps out what kind of knowledge would be valuable to have for prevention, harm reduction and policy interventions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDrugs and Alcohol Today
Pages (from-to)383-392
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Policy, Young people, Preention, Harm reduction, Nitrous oxide, Recreational use

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