Dutch to ban laughing gas over fears for health and road safety

Nitrous oxide linked to more than 60 fatal crashes in the country in less than three years

The Dutch government will ban laughing gas from next year, amid growing concern about the risks it poses to health and road safety.

From 1 January 2023, the sale, import and possession of laughing gas, formally known as nitrous oxide, will be banned in the Netherlands, with a few exceptions for medical use and the food industry.

The Dutch state secretary for health, welfare and sport, Maarten Van Ooijen, said the recreational use of laughing gas posed “enormous health risks” and was linked to “terrible” road accidents involving non-users of the drug, as he announced the ban on Monday.

Nitrous oxide, which is inhaled from a balloon that has been filled by a cylinder, has become increasingly common as a recreational drug. One in 50 Dutch adults used laughing gas in 2020, according to the Trimbos Institute, which studies drugs and mental health. The institute also highlighted the growing use of the substance by 12- to 14-year-olds, who do not see it as a “real drug” and are unaware of the risks.

For some experts, January may be too late. “The nitrous oxide ban should come into effect as soon as possible, rather yesterday than today,” Robert Riezebos, a cardiologist at the Greater Amsterdam city hospital, told the newspaper Het Parool in May.

He reported seeing 20 young patients in his department in recent years suffering major health damage, such as heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms, as well as a young woman who had to have her leg amputated.

Police have also welcomed the ban, after a surge in traffic accidents linked to the drug. In a nearly-three-year period until October 2021 there were almost 1,800 road accidents involving nitrous oxide, including 63 fatal collisions, according to a police survey reported by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS. Offences committed by people using the gas included dangerous driving and driving without a licence.

The ban had already been approved by the Dutch house of representatives and the senate, but the council of state, an official advisory body, wanted clearer legal distinctions between medical and recreational use. Laughing gas is used as an anaesthetic, as well as in the production of whipped cream.

But one prominent industry group opposed the ban. The Industry Association for Responsible Laughing Gas Suppliers acknowledged there was a problem, but argued that stricter rules would “work better than a ban”.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Amsterdam to outlaw cannabis-smoking in red-light district streets
‘Historic’ clampdown on tourist excesses aims to make life more bearable for local residents

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

10, Feb, 2023 @10:30 AM

Article image
Dutch government pilots technology to cut e-bike road deaths
Digital system automatically reduces electric bicycles’ power in built-up areas

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

06, Nov, 2020 @1:24 PM

Article image
Netherlands becoming a narco-state, warn Dutch police
Officers say many victims do not report incidents and organised gangs have a free rein

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

20, Feb, 2018 @11:32 AM

Article image
Dutch cyclists face mobile phone ban
Phone ban to be extended to cyclists amid road safety fears in country where bikes outnumber people

Jon Henley European affairs correspondent

27, Sep, 2018 @11:48 AM

Article image
Dutch high hopes for legal cannabis farms hit by nimby protests
Drug supply experiment falters as Netherlands plan for greenhouses stirs anxiety among local residents

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

03, Jan, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Dutch councils vie to produce cannabis in bid to cut out criminals
Netherlands trial is designed to stop gangs from supplying cannabis-selling coffee shops

Daniel Boffey in Breda

27, Dec, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Older Dutch cyclists warned after rise in electric bike deaths
Netherlands police call for safety courses as data shows more riders die on e-bikes than mopeds, with 90% of deaths among over 60s

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

22, Sep, 2017 @11:28 AM

Article image
European drug agency opposes Amsterdam’s erotic centre plans
EMA says relocation of sex workers to area near its HQ could bring problems associated with red light district

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

08, Mar, 2023 @12:14 PM

Article image
Laughing gas usage in UK highest in global survey
Survey of 20 countries found use of nitrous oxide on the rise, with the former legal high being most popular in the UK

Sarah Boseley

14, Jun, 2016 @5:01 AM

Article image
Booby trap scuppers police raid on Dutch floating crystal meth lab
Forensic experts were forced off cargo ship when it suddenly began taking on water

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

13, May, 2019 @11:29 AM