Nitrous oxide, colloquially known as laughing gas, is to be made an illegal class C substance in the UK by the end of 2023.
Under new rules set out by the UK Government, people caught producing or selling the drug could face up to 14 years in prison. Currently, the supply of nitrous oxide, which is usually released into balloons from small silver canisters and then inhaled, for recreational use is banned, but possession is not.
The Government's decision to press ahead with a full criminalisation of the substance is at odds with recommendations set out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that such measures would be disproportionate to the amount of harm linked to the use of laughing gas. Experts also advised the Government that criminalisation could discourage users from seeking health support if needed.
A number of MPs have backed the change in law, however, after studies showed that recreational use of nitrous oxide had multiplied among 16- to 24-year-olds. Use of the substance has been linked to headaches as well as the onset of anxiety or paranoia in some cases. Heavy use of the gas can also sometimes lead to loss of consciousness.
Confirming plans for the full criminalisation of nitrous oxide, a UK Government statement said those found in unlawful possession of the drug could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, while sentences of up to 14 years can be applied to the supply or production of the gas.
"We are cleaning up our streets and tackling antisocial behaviour," a Home Office spokesperson said of the plans to make nitrous oxide an illegal class C substance.
In her own statement, home secretary Suella Braverman said: "The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up. Earlier this year, the prime minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering.
"If you are caught using 'laughing gas' as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time."