hippy crack

Why Is Nitrous Oxide Called Hippy Crack?

“Hippy” typifies the laid-back trait of persons who use it; “crack” describes the speed in which the drug takes effect, taking after “crack cocaine”[1].

“Crack” also originates from the whip-it cracker, a device used to discharge the drug into balloons or other containers.

Hippy crack is called many names including [2]:

  • Whippets/ Whip-its/ whippits/
  • Laughing gas
  • N20
  • Noz
  • Nangs
  • Sweet Air

In the UK, using Nitrous Oxide for recreational purposes is illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act [3].

However, the easy availability of the drug coupled with loose enforcement of the law means its use is widespread.

Hippy Crack – Nitrous Oxide paraphernalia has been found in areas surrounding a music festival, parties, and other events youth frequent [2].

So far, up to thirty deaths have been connected with the unlawful use of Nitrous Oxide [3].

But because of the negative effects of the drug are under-reported, many users seem to dodge serious consequences.

There is no formal categorisation of addiction to Hippy Crack/Nitrous Oxide.

However, mental health workers and health care professionals address problems regarding Nitrous Oxide use with the same guidelines as those used to treat other addictions [4].

A person addicted to using Nitrous Oxide, like other dissociative drugs, can have the following symptoms [5]:

  • A need to use it in a higher dose to obtain the same desired effect
  • Cravings for Hippy Crack
  • Headaches and/or flu-like symptoms when the “usual dose” is missed
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Excessive sweating

Nitrous Oxide/Hippy Crack is considered a dissociative drug, which causes individuals to have [6]:

  • Hallucinations – seeing or feeling things that are not actually existing
  • Sensorial disturbances – a sense of smell, taste, and feel are not normal
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling disconnected from the body or self
  • The person feels as if s/he is floating
  • Feeling numb
  • Having a sense of euphoria (some describe it as bliss)
  • Perceiving things in real life are not real
  • Detachment from self
  • The theme of being connected to a “Higher Power” is commo

Withdrawal symptoms from Nitrous Oxide can also be similar to withdrawal symptoms from other dissociative drugs.

However, withdrawal symptoms from Nitrous Oxide are still being studied so that a comprehensive understanding can be developed. [6]

Detox and withdrawal from Hippy Crack can be done safely in a rehab clinic like Abbeycare Gloucester.

Is Laughing Gas Dangerous?

Yes, laughing gas is dangerous because its use can cause a person to be deprived of oxygen, which leads to unconsciousness and in the worst case, death [7].

Laughing Gas, known as Nitrous Oxide or Hippy Crack harms the body by:  [7]

Creating a risk for asphyxiation (being deprived of oxygen)

  • Loss of oxygen in the brain can cause death or permanent brain damage

Loss of consciousness (passing out)

  • Increases the crime risk of harm for the person

Nitrous Oxide–induced Vitamin B12 deficiency causing:

  • Numbness and weakness in arms and legs
  • Neck pain
  • Reduced range of movements (difficulty extending arms and/or legs)
  • Shooting pain that starts with the neck and goes down the spine
  • Poor coordination of hands and feet
  • Handling small objects
  • Not standing or walking in a balanced way
  • Increasing the risk of acute megaloblastic anaemia, which causes:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscles feel weak
  • Pale skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea/nausea/vomiting
  • Swollen tongue

Escaping cold gas can:

  • burn the skin
  • shock the vagus nerve, causing the heartbeat to slow down

There is also a risk for psychosis and cognitive impairment (thinking problems) [4].

Nitrous Oxide is considered safe when used in a controlled setting by a health care professional.

Officially used, it can help soothe children who get anxious with a dental procedure [8].

Likewise, in a clinic, Nitrous Oxide can be used as a minor anaesthetic.

The recreational use of Nitrous Oxide, known as Hippy Crack has become an alarming trend recently (2016-2019). [1]

Young people are prone to abuse Nitrous Oxide because of its mistaken reputation as a “safe” party drug.

In both recreational use and clinical use, the most negative effect seems to be nausea and/or vomiting.

Some individuals also become addicted to using Nitrous Oxide.

Authorities pinpoint its accessibility and low price (compared to other recreational drugs) [9].

Quitting the use of Laughing Gas/Nitrous Oxide can be safely done in a rehab clinic like Abbeycare Scotland, where professional help can ease possible withdrawal symptoms.

Is Laughing Gas Harmful?

Yes. The potential harms of Laughing Gas/Nitrous Oxide use include accidental suffocation and muscle debility [2].

There is also a risk for Nitrous Oxide Addiction, which can cause a person physical and psychological distress.

Inhaling Laughing Gas/Hippy Crack in an enclosed space increases the risk of oxygen deprivation or suffocation.

Suffocation can happen when a person who uses Laughing Gas has no access to air [2].

When Laughing Gas is inhaled [7]:

  • It binds to the opiate receptors in the Central Nervous System
  • The brain releases its natural opioids, or pain killers
  • The person feels relaxed, less anxious
  • But during this state, the brain needs a boost of oxygen

If a person using Laughing Gas does not get oxygen immediately after, the following will likely happen:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

In a health care facility where Nitrous Oxide is handled by professionals, oxygen is administered through a simple face mask that fits over the person’s nose to prevent loss of consciousness.

Loss of consciousness is caused when some parts of the brain stop receiving signals telling the person to stay alert. [10]

In situations when loss of consciousness happens, the person can be exposed to risks such as:

  • Crime (committed while the person is unconscious)
  • Vomiting – the person’s throat can be blocked, and because he/she is unconsciousness, this becomes a choking hazard
  • Hypoxia or oxygen deprivation can cause permanent brain damage [11]

In the A&E, persons who become unconscious due to oxygen loss are immediately given oxygen.

However, irreparable and permanent damage can happen when immediate access to oxygen is not received [11].

Therefore, inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the canister, and/or placing a plastic bag over the head while inhaling Laughing Gas/Hippy Crack is extremely dangerous.

In serious cases with no immediate help, fatalities can occur [2].

Even in clinics, undesirable side effects of Laughing Gas/Nitrous Oxide have been reported. These minor complaints include:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Shivering/ feeling cold
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness/headaches
  • Feeling very tired

Is Using Nitrous Oxide Illegal?

In the UK, using Nitrous Oxide/Hippy Crack for recreational purposes is illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act [3].

Selling Hippy Crack, for psychoactive purposes is illegal. But selling Nitrous Oxide per se is not illegal.

The reason Nitrous Oxide is not a banned or controlled substance is that it has a legitimate use in: [3]

  • Dental procedures
  • A&E and outpatient clinics
  • Restaurants (aerosol chargers used to make whipped cream in drinks)

In addition, possession of Nitrous Oxide/Hippy Crack is not illegal

But possessing it with intent to sell it as a (party) drug is illegal.

It is difficult to prove in court that a person who has possession of Nitrous Oxide intends to sell the substance for psychoactive purposes. [12]

In a recent report by the BBC, journalists easily obtained the substance by phone, online and in actual person at Manchester [3].

Hippy Crack’s low price (compared to other illegal drugs) and easy availability has are the reason why a growing number of people have become addicted to Laughing Gas.

In the Global Drug Survey of 2012, as many as 22,000 youths from the UK have reportedly tried the drug in nightclubs, music festivals, and other social gatherings [7].

Most of these individuals have wrongly been led to believe that Hippy Crack is safe and does not cause any undesirable effects.

What Does Hippy Crack Do?

Known formally as Nitrous Oxide, the drug is an anaesthetic and an analgesic [8].

An anaesthetic renders a person unable to feel pain, while an analgesic lessens pain sensations.

When inhaled, Nitrous Oxide causes a person to feel less pain or to totally feel no pain at all.

However, this effect is accurately reached when Nitrous Oxide is mixed with a ratio of oxygen.

In recreational use, the effects of Nitrous Oxide/Hippy Crack can vary.

Sometimes the desired effect is achieved and sometimes negative effects happen.

Negative effects of Nitrous Oxide/Hippy Crack

  • Vomiting and nausea – if not mixed with enough oxygen or when the dose is too high
  • Not recommended for use when the person is already using opioid painkillers
  • Can cause shallow breathing

Healthcare professionals, however, find Nitrous Oxide as an effective drug because:

  • It reaches the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal chord) within seconds after being inhaled
  • It is a non-invasive procedure
  • It has a good safety record of safety
  • Few side effects when administered with oxygen
  • The person given the drug is not required to be constantly monitored
  • Does not usually cause deep sedation
  • Can be used in different care environments as long as there is equipment
  • Usually applied to manage sudden pain connected to minor procedures

Using a nasal hood or full face mask, Nitrous Oxide is mixed with a ratio of oxygen.

Within 1-2 minutes, a person can already feel it take effect.

Nitrous Oxide’s anaesthetic or sedative effect is much more known than its analgesic (pain relieving) effect.

That is why it is administered together with other pain killers. (Paracetamol or Ibuprofen for example).

Professionals believe that it decreases pain because it lowers a person’s anxiety about the procedure.

With children, Nitrous Oxide is a boon to because it allows for the procedure to be done without much complaint.

For adults, Nitrous Oxide can be applied when undergoing some procedures like: [8]

  • Incision and drainage of wounds
  • Joint Dislocation/Injections
  • Muscle Pain
  • Pain involving fractures
  • Dental Procedures
  • Minor to Moderate Burns
  • Repairs of muscle tears
  • Foreign Body Removal

In short, when used by professionals, Nitrous Oxide is generally considered a safe drug.

But when Nitrous Oxide is used as a psychoactive drug, unintentional harm can occur.

Also, some individuals become addicted to Hippy Crack/Nitrous Oxide.

A sensible way of detoxing from Hippy Crack would be in a rehab clinic such as Abbeycare.



  1.   Lake, E. (2019, March 28). No laughing matter – What s ‘hippy crack’, what are the side effects of laughing gas and are nitrous oxide canisters illegal?. The Sun. Available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3364682/nitrous-oxide-canisters-side-effects-laughing-gas-hippy-crack-illegal/
  2.   Sidmouth College (n.d.) Fact Sheet – Nitrous Oxide. Available at: https://www.sidmouthcollege.devon.sch.uk/uploads/3/1/6/1/31615835/nitrous_oxide_fact_sheet_-_feb_2016.pdf
  3.   O’Donoghue, L. (2018, December 19). Laughing gas laws not working, says ex-chief crown prosecutor. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-46591871
  4.   Sheldon, R., Reid, M., Schon F. & Poole, Norman. (2019). Just say N2O – nitrous oxide misuse: essential information for psychiatrists. BJPsy Advances. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336192570_Just_say_N2O_-_nitrous_oxide_misuse_essential_information_for_psychiatrists
  5.   National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Hallucinogens. Availbale at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
  6.   Alcohol and Drug Foundation. (2017). Nitrous oxide. Available at: https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/nitrous-oxide/
  7.   Thompson, A., Leite, M., Lunn, M. & Bennett, D. (2015). Whippits, nitrous oxide and the dangers of legal highs. Practical Nuerology, 15(3), 207–209. Availabe at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4453489/
  8.   Lapietra, A. (2018). Nitrous Oxide in the Emergency Department. Pain & Procedural Sedation in Acute Care. Available at: https://painandpsa.org/n2o/
  9.   Rawlinson, K. (2017, August 31). Laughing gas still illegal despite court decisions, UK government says. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/31/laughing-gas-still-illegal-despite-court-decisions-government-says
  10.   Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2015). Researchers reveal brainwave changes in patients receiving nitrous oxide. Available at: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-07-reveal-brainwave-patients-nitrous-oxide.html
  11.   Singh, V., Gupta, P., Khatana, S., & Bhagol, A. (2011). Supplemental oxygen therapy: Important considerations in oral and maxillofacial surgery. Natl J Maxillofac Surg., 2(1), 10–14. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3304228/
  12.   Extance, A. (2017, September 4). Nitrous oxide causes UK drug law confusion. Available at: https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/nitrous-oxide-causes-uk-drug-law-confusion/3007935.article
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About the author

Melany Heger

Registered Psychologist and Freelance Writer, Jinjin Melany passionately writes about mental health issues, addiction, eating disorders and parenting since 2015. Read more about Melany on LinkedIn. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).