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A nitrous cracker Source: GreenZeb/Wikimedia Commons Photo:MELBOURNE party-goers are using nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” as a recreational drug at festivals and parties, despite the serious dangers involved.

By TESS PAPANIKOLAOU

MELBOURNE revellers are sucking up dangerous doses of nitrous oxide, often known as laughing gas, as a cheap alternative to party drugs.

Nitrous oxide, also known as “nangs”, is used as an inhalant and has become the latest craze in recreational drug taking in Melbourne’s party scene.

The issue caused international headlines this week when young Liverpool soccer star Raheem Sterling was reprimanded by his club after he was videotaped allegedly inhaling the gas before passing out. Another player was also reprimanded.

“You are basically starving the brain of oxygen, as when people are inhaling nitrous (oxide), they are ineffectively displacing oxygen with the gas, ” Dr Bartone said.

“We need oxygen for everything we do and if you are using nitrous (oxide), you aren’t receiving oxygen, which makes it unpredictable and very scary for users.”

The Australian Government’s lists the potential side effects of the inhalant as including brain damage, paralysis, heart problems and sudden death.

First widely used in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s, nitrous oxide has become problematic for London police. A British Government last year found almost half a million people aged 16-59 had used nitrous oxide in 2013-14, five times more than the previous year. Among the 16-24 age group, 7.6 per cent used nitrous oxide, almost twice as many as had used cocaine.

Laughing gas is sold on the street in canisters and balloons for $9, allowing young people easy access before going to nightclubs.

Dr Bartone said he did not see why Melbourne would not follow London’s trend of nitrous oxide being sold on the streets.

“[If] it is happening in England then there is nothing to suggest it wouldn’t happen here. We need to be diligent and not wait for it to become a problem, ” he said.

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