Fueled in part by social media, nitrous oxide has gone from a rave party drug to mainstream recreational use by teens in Los Angeles. The drug, which creates a brief high, has spurred fatal car accidents, rapes and teen deaths. It is legal for use in dental work where it is mixed with oxygen to create “laughing gas,” in the food industry to pressurize whipped cream canisters, and as a propellant to speed up racecars. For a high, it is inhaled, either directly from a tank or after being dispensed into a balloon.
In an attempt to stop the illegal use of nitrous oxide by teens, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has cracked down on more than 350 illegal parties who were selling the drug to teens. By monitoring social media, authorities found many illegal posts advertising drugs such as nitrous oxide for sale. A problem for law enforcement officers going after the illegal use of nitrous oxide is that its distribution or use as a recreational drug currently is only a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, authorities served search warrants on businesses and delivery vehicles during simultaneous raids in LA, Orange and Riverside counties and seized 367 tanks or 36,000 pounds of nitrous oxide with a street value of $20 million.
Teens need to be advised that long term use of nitrous oxide can lead to neurologic problems like numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes, with some evidence suggesting chronic abuse leads to formation of "dark holes" in brain tissue, associated with lack of oxygen and death of brain cells. Nitrous oxide is also considered a greenhouse gas and is 310 times more dangerous to the Earth's ozone layer than carbon dioxide.