London students launch awareness campaign after ‘Nos’ sparks rise in spiral injuries

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Edical students in London have launched a public health campaign to educate adolescents on the dangers of nitrous oxide use following a rise in spiraling injuries linked to frequent drug use.

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The N20: Know the Risk campaign was launched by students from Queen Mary, University of London to raise awareness of the neurological risks associated with nitrous oxide.

The campaign group, led by fourth-year medical student Devan Maier, has begun offering interactive sessions in the Tower Hamlets area through youth groups and housing associations.


Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or balloon and nicknamed “hippie crack”, is a popular recreational drug in London. It is illegal to supply for human consumption but not to capture.

Street cleaners collected 3.5 tonnes of canisters after the Notting Hill carnival last month and they are regularly sold at UK festivals.

Repeated use of the drug can damage the nervous system by interfering with the metabolism of vitamin B12. It affects the production of myelin – a protective covering of nerves around the body.

When B12 is inactivated by nitrous oxide, myelin is no longer kept in good repair, which can lead to damage to the spinal cord.

University students distribute cards containing information about nitrous oxide

, Queen Mary, University of London

According to the England and Wales Crime Survey, nearly 9 percent of 16 to 24 year olds said they had taken nitrous oxide in the previous year in 2019/20, up from 6.1 percent in 2012/13.

Alistair Noyce, professor of neurology and neuroepidemiology at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary University of London and consultant neurologist at Barts NHS Trust, said many users were unaware of the drug’s potential dangers.

“We’re seeing more patients than a year ago, and often cases are more severe,” he said.

“We used to see people with tingling and numbness in their feet or difficulty walking, but this year we have many people who literally can’t walk at all when they come to the hospital.”

At the launch of a trial of the campaign at the Queen Mary University of London Festival of Communities in June, 97 percent of the 246 people who visited the stall said they were not previously aware that nitrous oxide could cause neurological damage.

Mr Maier said: “We are not here to lecture or intimidate anyone, we want to empower people with knowledge of the risks of nitrous oxide so that they can inform them when faced with the decision to take a balloon.”


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