Hippy Crack, Nitrous Oxide Addiction Treatment

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What is Hippy crack?

Hippy Crack is the street name for Nitrous Oxide or what is known as "laughing gas." It is one of the most recent drugs to be ruled illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Nitrous Oxide is a gas that can be inhaled through different ways. The most common way is through a balloon that has been filled by a small canister of the gas.

The end of 2017 saw hundreds of people arrested and 50 dealers prosecuted, some of who were jailed.

Originally synthesised in 1772, it had been used for centuries as a painkiller by dentists and doctors, sometimes used during childbirth and dentist procedures. However, more recently, party and festival-goers have become more interested in its euphoric effects.

Nitrous Oxide pressurised metal canisters, from which gas is pumped into balloons before being inhaled, litter festival sites and town and city centre pavements all over the UK.

Negative Side Effects of Hippy Crack

One of the reasons why Hippy crack or laughing gas was banned is because it causes the following negative side effects;

  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly due to lack of oxygen
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme headaches
  • Serious nerve damage.
  • sound distortions
  • lack of vitamin B12.

You will find a person breathing hard when using this drug, and the body's responses of inhaling nitrous oxide or happy gas are at times unpredictable.

Additionally, the use of this drug is illegal, and may lead to prison an unlimited fine judgement, which means that you could spend some time in jail or pay a fine.

Risks of using Hippy Crack

Hippy gas, Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that can cause dizziness or affect one's judgement and causes you to act carelessly.

Although its known as laughing gas, and will probably cause you to start laughing uncontrollably, it is also likely to cause unconsciousness or death from lack of oxygen.

This occurs when the available oxygen for breathing is effectively pushed out by the nitrous oxide. The risk is greater if the gas is consumed in an enclosed space or if a plastic bag is used that covers both the nose and mouth.

Heavy regular use of hippy crack or nitrous oxide will also lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and a form of anemia.

Mixing nitrous oxide with alcohol is especially dangerous as it can increase the risks associated with both substances and can cause an increased risk of accidents or death

Why is it called Hippy Crack?

It is called hippy crack, because of the relaxed vibe and thought of "unserious" nature of the drug. It is also mostly preferred by "Soft," drug users, such as as those who use cannabis or go to parties and not in the media portrayed the origin of a ‘hardened addict.

However, the ‘vibe’ of the substance is misleading as the use of this can cause serious harm and/or death to the user.

Currently, the preferred name for hippy crack amongst teenagers using it is: party Balloons. This substance can be bought cheaply and with apparent ease over the internet along with the paraphernalia required to ‘crack’ or ‘whip’ the high pressure gas canisters open.

As it is a gas the only way it can be stored is in a pressurized container. Such high pressure is also unsafe, as it is combustible.

How is Nitrous Oxide being abused?

Through inhalation. Nitrous oxide also known as Laughing Gas, hippy crack, NOZ, Nangs, Sweet Air and Balloons can be discharged by use of commonly found objects like balloons directly into your month.

This is for recreational use, and young people report intense feelings of high, and a rapid rush of euphoria when used. One also feels like they are floating and excited, but for a short period of time.

How is Nitrous Oxide used legally?

In medicine. Nitrous oxide is legally used by dentists. It is in fact a legal drug that was originally meant to be used when handling different dental issues.

cream chargers

What are Cream Chargers?

Cream chargers are steel cylinders or cartridges that are filled with Nitrous Oxide or laughing gas.

They are used as a whipping agent where the narrow end of the charger has a foil covering that's normally broken to release the gas. This can be done by use of a sharp pin.

The use of nitrous oxide is currently prevalent and these cream chargers provide a convenient source for the gas.

How big a problem is Nitrous Oxide or hippy crack in the UK?

It is big. According to research, Hippy Crack is the 14th most abused drug in the UK. Most people believe that the human consumption of hippy crack is a new trend, but, it can actually be traced back to the to the 1800s.

It was known in the 1800s as ‘laughing gas’ as parties were thrown by the English elite and the participants after inhaling nitrous oxide directly would lie about laughing?

In this early era, a dentist trialed the drug for dentistry pain relief and found it created more of a mild anesthetic and relaxed sensation for patients. Nitrous oxide was introduced into Dentistry from this point forward.

This laughing gas concept has gained recent media attention as the new party drug and is also being used in combination with other drugs such as GHB/GBL in Chemsex (1)Parties popular amongst same sex partners.

The magnitude of the problem is unknown due to the underground nature of drug use however this and other drugs have been causing harm and have now been included in the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act.

As with this substance and many other Legal Highs their purchasing is relatively easy due to internet accessibility. The items used to partake of the substance are part of mainstream society i.e. balloons and catering equipment.

When evaluating the scale of the problem the incidence of small metal canisters found in large quantities in areas teenagers frequent, outside bars/nightclubs or after festivals indicates the scale of the problem in the UK is large.

As it is difficult to quantify the extent of the problem the Global Drugs Survey (2013-2014) stated Hippy Crack was the 14th most used drug globally. (2)

With the Home Office Drugs Misuse Data (2013-2014) indicating 7.6%- or 16-24-year olds in England and Wales had tried the drug.

Is Nitrous Oxide illegal?

No. But, the use of nitrous oxide, or hippy crack, or laughing gas for recreation use is illegal in the UK. However, when used for medical purposes such as a dentist's office, or in the catering industry for prolonging the shelf life of whipped cream and other substances, it is not illegal.

Also, when injected into a car engine to achieve higher speeds, this is legal, but you must notify your Insurance Company of the modification.

The lines are crossed when nitrous oxide use is for recreation purposes only, mentioned before the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. This gives police powers to arrest you. You should also not import nitrous oxide for this purpose.

The illegal High is dangerous and can damage or in some small incidences cause loss of life to the user.

The maximum sentence that can be administered is 7 years for those supplying the gas for inhalation and not professional use.

Although illegal internet sites promote stories to inform users of how to use the substance in safety.

They will ask one to sign up and then feed you more stories about hippie crack and other promoted stories that are fake on how it is freely available.

The Law

Supply and production of Hippy crack or laughing gas can come with a maximum 7-year sentence and falls under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act and not the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

A difference between acts is that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 categorizes drugs in groups such as A, B or C.

Nitrous oxide or laughing gas, is not in any category.

Again, this implies that nitrous gas or hippy crack is a new phenomenon to authorities, but as we have mentioned this drug is not new at all.

Nitrous oxide as a drug has just become more popular in younger users and party goers, due to the many promoted stories that makes these young people sign up for its use.

Possession is not an illegal act unless found in possession in a custodial establishment such as prison or a young offenders institution.


Current Status

So why have Legal Highs such as Hippy Crack become more popular?

There may be a variety of different reasons such as:

  • The drug is cheap
  • Nitrous oxide is a colourless drug that almost seems unreal.
  • It is easy accessible.
  • There are many promoted stories of its use.
  • It is a legal drug, unless when promoting it illegally.
  • The effects are instantaneous and wear off quickly
  • Balloons for example are perceived as fashionable and socially acceptable by teenagers and young adults
  • People still want to get high but don’t want criminal records that may occur with illegal drugs
  • Young people are not fully aware of the dangers attached to the use of N20 gas

Will longitudinal studies that identify the long-term harms of these legal highs such as the vitamin B12 deficiency, it is hard to deter the next generation to sign up, and, therefore, the use of Hippy Crack (3) or nitrous oxide remains part of present popular culture. Attaching itself to teenagers, young adults and Chemsex parties.

What does it look like?

N20 is a colourless gas.

How does it taste and smell? 

N2O is an odorless, colourless gas. Some users describe it to have a slightly sweet smell and taste.

How do people take it?

Through inhalation. As the drug is a gas it is held in a pressurised metal cannister which is whipped or cracked open by a Whip-It canister or cracker which can be bought online for the sole purpose of opening Cream Chargers.

Some users adapt their own crackers for taking laughing gas.

Once opened the canister is quickly distributed into a balloon, the user then inhales the balloon and reseals it holding their breath until the desired effect occurs or they can no longer hold their breath.

The balloon is normally emptied between one and two breaths.

What are the methods of inhalation?

There are many inhalation methods, but the preferred and safe method of inhalation is from the balloon if the user was to intake the N20 directly from the canister, they may freeze their esophagus and damage their vocal cords or cause extreme nerve damage.

Most users sign up for this kind of use.

How does it feel?

As with all drugs consumed the more used the stronger the effect. With Happy Crack a few different sensations have been recorded:

  • Euphoria – intense and short lived
  • Laughing – hence the name ‘laughing gas’
  • Auditory and Sensory Distortions or hallucinations

However, these feelings can also turn uncomfortable if the user uses too much N20 or a combination of other drugs/alcohol which create mental and physical disruptions.

Taking nitrous oxide directly, or too much nitrous oxide in a person's system, can lead to excessive sweating, the "silly feeling" causing tingling that can be very uncomfortable, a severe headache, or feeling light headed. It also affects one's immune system.

Further uncomfortable feelings that can arise:

  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • A foggy mind

How does Nitrous Oxide cause Euphoria?

Nitrous oxide causes a feeling of euphoria due to the release of Dopamine from the brain. These chemical releases the feelings of euphoria and users are keen to chase or repeat this feeling. This is why the substance has made its way to recreational use.

What does it do?

Nitrous oxide use allows for a temporary escape from reality. The person using the substance as a recreational drug alters their sensations, emotions, feelings and perceptions for a short while until the gas wears off. The gas slows the body's reaction time to feelings, and physical pain, acting as a mild sedative that alters the body's responses.


There are a few different factors which affect the duration such as:

  • Amount consumed – size of breath, size of balloon
  • If new to the drug
  • If been using N20 for a considerable amount of time
  • Whether the action is repeated whilst still in a higher state from the first inhalation

However, with all that said the effect of the gas is short lived and wears off quickly. Some users will empty the full balloon with one or two breaths others take shorter breaths to prolong the sensation the gas delivers.

Is it Dangerous to mix with other drugs?

Yes, N20 is dangerous to mix with other drugs. This drug and other drugs affect the body in different ways.

Take opiates for example they have some of the same responses as N20. As opiates dull the sensations, can create a relaxed feeling throughout the body and early on in use can create feelings of euphoria.

Opiates (4)slow the breathing therefore taking N20 with Opiates can place pressure on the respiratory system and accidents can occur as the senses that keep a person safe are dampened.

With alcohol inhibitions are already lowered as the alcohol enters the bloodstream and using N20 can further lower the senses again accidents can occur.

In amphetamines (5)the heart rate has been increased using a legal high such as N20 on top of amphetamine can create paranoia and headaches to name a few side-effects. As the user is in an altered state of reality with an increased heart rate.

In short using any other drug with N20 (including some prescription medications) can be dangerous for the user as they will have no idea how the body will react with various substances in the bloodstream, altering the senses and increasing/decreasing the heart rate.

Health Concerns – Physical and Mental Health Risks

The human body is comprised of two main important gases for sustaining daily living such as Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide.

N20 is not required by the body to sustain daily living therefore it is a foreign object entering the body through means of inhalation and this act alone can damage the lungs, normal brain function and mental health of the inhaler.

If mixed with other drugs or alcohol unknown chemical reactions can occur with the body and heart attack or stroke for example may occur.

The inhaler may also be left with mental health problems if psychosis occurs or dopamine levels are depleted. This can result in depression, anxiety, stress and paranoia.

Nerve Damage

Those using the gas have also been known to become temporarily paralyzed. Prolonged and persistent use can bring about a depletion in B12 which can be attributed to nerve damage, tingling sensations in the body and peripheral numbness.

A recent newspaper article reported a young mum losing the ability to feed her children for 9 months as she was paralyzed due to her use of N20.

Users of N20 are to be cautious when using the gas and it is recommended they never place a bag over their head or use the substance in a confined area. This will reduce the bodies chance to intake O2 and recover from the inhalation.

Using under these circumstances can cause suffocating or fainting due in some extreme cases for the lack of 02.

Can you get addicted?

Yes, although Hippy Crack addiction is completely subjective. If the person taking the gas indicates they are craving more and feeling irritated prior to use then support is required to stop and stay sober.

They may feel personally addicted to N20 a large component of addiction is the incidence of physical withdrawals without the substance that has created a chemical dependence.

However, an equally large and relevant area of addiction is the psychological need to consume more of a chosen substance.

If the use of N20 has become a problem Abbeycare can help.

What to do if you’re worried about using Nitrous Oxide?

Seek help, there are many informative posts about N20 that may support the user of N20.

If you feel you can’t beat the habit on your own Abbeycare can help.

Abbeycare is a research led facility that utilizes the best levels of care and support when delivering a rehab programme. (6)

Recovery is possible for anybody from any background or walk or life.

If you visualize yourself free from alcohol and drugs living a happy and productive life?

And wish to learn more about our Recovery Treatment or how to stop using N20 call our free 24/7 Helpline on 01603 513 091 or fill out the form below to speak to a trained recovery counsellor.

N20 is not designed to be inhaled into the human bloodstream. The gas has become part of mainstream society with it use through Balloons increasing amongst the younger generation on the party scene.

With all drugs both physical and mental dependence can occur, and professional support is required. Abbeycare can provide a safe and secure place to rehabilitate from the misuse of Nitrous Oxide NO2 street name Hippy Crack or Balloons.

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: October 31, 2023