Nitrous oxide: Definitely no laughing matter!

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/11 17:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

I first heard about "laughing gas" or "sweet air" a decade ago when I was preparing for dental surgery in Sydney. My doctor parents described the feeling of nitrous oxide as "slipping into a warm bath. It tingles, you feel numb and everything is painless." In the end, an alternative was used since they know far too well the risks and the negative effects that it might have on me. Nitrous oxide has all the characteristics of an illicit drug, yet it is legal and used by many, especially those in medical and industrial fields across the world.

Many of the drugs we know were created by scientists for medical purposes. However once the original intentions are abused and twisted, a drug's effects and aftermath can be long lasting and devastating.

Laughing gas - like amphetamines, meth, heroin, PCP, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana - is a stimulant, emotion enhancer, painkiller and tranquilizer with sedative and intoxicating characteristics.

It was synthesized by English chemist Joseph Priestley in 1772, but another chemist, Humphry Davy, fully realized its "pleasurable" qualities and turned its use into a craze. People, especially youths from the upper class in the late 1700s and early 1800s, became happy drunks and dependent on this recreational drug. Now, history repeats itself.

Recent horror stories of Chinese students returning back home paralyzed and suffering from severe health problems have raised discussion in China about this new fast-spreading drug. Many of the users are from economically well-off families. The reasons they fall victim to laughing gas range from curing depression to curiosity. Most alarmingly, many of them don't even understand it is a drug. Unlike a typical white powder, this odorless and colorless "sweet air" reaches the brain in less than 20 seconds and is seen as relatively harmless, especially since it is inhaled using portable canisters and colorful balloons, not injected using needles.

The giggles and state of euphoria felt by the user are short-lasting. This short high makes this cheap and easy drug more addictive.

While many know it cures pain, what is not known is that it leads to complications such as lung punctures, mental and manual impairment, cardio and nerve damage and not surprisingly depression. For some of the Chinese students who have ended their studies abroad to seek treatment in their homeland, the road to recovery consists of phases of withdrawal, relapse and pain. Some of them have been paralyzed for life. This drug is a devastating danger, not only for the individual and their families but also for society.

While the more commonly known illicit drugs are clearly defined in legal terms, laughing gas has always been in a legal grey zone. Take Australia for example. It is legal and police can seize it from anyone under the age of 18. In one state, there is a two-year sentence for anyone supplying laughing gas to those with the intention to misuse it.

However, finding ways to prove that the seller is aware of the intentions prior to the deal may be difficult. For China, cases of laughing gas abuse are both imported and home-grown. Since it is an assault on public health, China can take the lead and work with the international community to find a clear-cut legal definition, raise educational awareness and control the supply-demand chain. Drugs are ever-evolving. The frontline of the narcotics war is continuous, organic and cunning.

In recent times, Chinese police have seized substances found in the form of innocent looking milk tea bags, fizzy lolly sachets with cartoon characters, colorful plastic tubs and other packaging. This is just one example of how frequently drugs are evolving in their make-up and design.

Take the examples of Greece's "sisa" and Russia's "krokodil." Drugs are becoming more impure, affordable and challenging for government bodies and law-enforcers to monitor and control.

A hit or kick from a sedative and numbing agent is temporary. One minute of "happiness" is too much of a risk for a lifetime of health complications and death. Happiness co-exists with pain. Life is not a smooth ride. It is normal to hit a low but using drugs to go high will only drag you down further.

May harsh laws remain in place for all drug-related offenses! May we eradicate the grey zone and protect the population from ever-changing and deadly narcotics.

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia and educated in China, Australia and France.

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