Secretary of State for Health, Welfare and Sport (Paul Blokhuis (CU) has introduced a bill to make “recreational nitrous oxide” a criminal offence. These measures come, among other things, following a report on the effects of nitrous oxide use. The report is the result of an “independent” study carried out by researchers from the Assessment and Monitoring Coordination Point (CAM) commissioned by the Ministry of Health. The intoxication would have too much appeal to young people who underestimate the risks of excessive nitrous oxide inhalation.
What is nitrous oxide
Traditionally, nitrous oxide is an anesthetic, which is also used as a short painkiller during medical procedures. Think of heavy births, dentist surgeries or painful ambulance rides. Because of the intoxication, nitrous oxide has been used for many years as a stimulant and party drug at parties and events. Nitrous oxide has been less popular and “out of fashion” for a period of time, but in recent years there has been another explosive increase in recreational nitrous oxide use. The great comeback of nitrous oxide has now reached the government.
By 2021, it should no longer be legally permitted to buy/sell nitrous oxide for recreational use. Also possessing nitrous oxide for recreational use is prohibited. However, there are different types of nitrous oxide. More on that later. The bill is primarily to curb “Food-grade” nitrous oxide. Food-grade nitrous oxide is particularly known for its whipped cream patterns where the nitrous oxide (N2O) serves as propellant.
Storm in a glass of water
However, there is a “loophole” in European law that does not completely prohibit the sale of whipped cream cartridges, so it is a bit of a storm in a glass of water according to Nico, owner of one of the largest whipped cream patterns webshops in the Netherlands. (www.slagroompatronengroothandel.nu)
Despite his core business being under fire, Nico sees the bill fairly light-heartedly. Nico is a member of the trade association of responsible nitrous oxide suppliers. Together they are trying to get the bill off the table. At least partially. They argue that, as with, for example, alcohol sales, stricter rules around age should be sufficient and that consumers should also bear their own responsibility.
Why nitrous oxide can’t be banned altogether
Previously, nitrous oxide was covered by the medicines law because it is used in childbirth and medical procedures. However, in 2016, a European court of the European Court ruled that nitrous oxide, as used in whipped cream cartridges as propellant, falls into the category of “merchandise”. As a result, nitrous oxide is now covered by the department law. The ruling by a European court does not allow the Netherlands to introduce a total ban because it would be contrary to European law. If it had not been for this ruling by a European court, nitrous oxide would have fallen in the Netherlands now under the Opium Act, list 2. This would have made a possible ban easy.
Why recreational use is banned
The total prohibition of nitrous oxide cartridges cannot be achieved so 1-2-3 says Nico the whipped cream patterns wholesaler. Nevertheless, the government wants to restrict the recreational nature of nitrous oxide as much as possible. In addition to being a risk to public health, excessive youthful use is a risk to public health, nitrous oxide is also increasingly involved in road accidents. The negative influence on responsiveness is a major culprit. The police also report more and more nuisance caused by nitrous oxide use. Think of noise pollution and a lot of waste (empty cartridges and balloons on the street).
A public health hazard
The nitrous oxide use in young users would lead to vitamin b12 deficiency and this would entail greater health risks. So you can get stuck in a daze and even suffer a spinal cord injury from nitrous oxide “abuse”. In addition to health risks and nuisances, we are also increasingly seeing dangerous situations with nitrous oxide. This is because users often store/transport large quantities and are not aware of fire and risk of explosion. Nitrous oxide is very volatile.
What this means for the nitrous oxide trade
The announced recreational ban in the Netherlands means that nitrous oxide will remain on the shelves, but only in small quantities and only for use in whipped cream syringes. For example, by 2021, wholesalers should no longer be allowed to sell large quantities to individuals; up to 10 whipped cream cartridges per customer. Business sales to catering establishments and businesses also have a limit of just a few hundred patterns per order, the proposal argues. For the time being, the change in the law only applies to “Food-grade nitrous oxide”. There are three types of nitrous oxide on the market in total;
Medical nitrous oxide: Medical nitrous oxide is pure and very strictly controlled for quality standards/requirements. This makes the sporadic medical use “safe”. For the trade in medical nitrous oxide, nothing or not much will probably change because medical nitrous oxide as a private individual is difficult to obtain and is relatively expensive to purchase.
Food-grade nitrous oxide: This is the nitrous oxide that is used in large quantity (and abused) as stimulant and party drugs. Food-grade nitrous oxide functions as a propellant to spray whipped cream, for example. Hence the name whipped cream patterns. This type of nitrous oxide poses a small health risk because this type of nitrous oxide is not very strictly controlled for quality and harmful substances as is the case with medical nitrous oxide.
Technical nitrous oxide: Not for human consumption because it is not checked for safety and quality. Technical nitrous oxide is used in the ramping/tuning of vehicles. Also for the sale of technical nitrous oxide is unlikely to change much.
The BVLL Press Release
The BVLL also comes out with an official press release:
“The BVLL, or the trade association of responsible nitrous oxide suppliers, welcomes the fact that the legislature is coming up with concrete measures to reduce the wide availability of nitrous oxide as a daze agent, thereby limiting the unbridled, uncontrolled supply and use of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes. According to the BVLL, the bill presented last Friday, 12 June, does not provide an adequate solution to the problem of nitrous oxide.”
for the (full) official BVLL press release “Explanatory Press Release BVLL 14 June 2020”(PDF)
Interview with Secretary of State of V.W.S. Paul Blokhuis on Radio 1: https://www.nporadio1.nl/nos-radio-1-journaal/onderwerpen/60118-2020-06-12-kabinet-wil-lachgas-voor-consumenten-bijna-helemaal-verbieden
General information nitrous oxide
Report CAM on RIVM website: https://www.rivm.nl/sites/default/files/2019-12/risicobeoordelingsrapport%20lachgas%2020191209%20beveiligd.pdf
International health risk research : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31679459/