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Doctors warn of increased nerve damage linked to nitrous oxide | Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

Doctors have sounded the alarm about an increase in cases of nerve damage related to the use of nitrous oxide.

In recent years, nitrous oxide, commonly known as “nos,” has become a very popular recreational drug. According to reports, it has been widely used at festivals this summer.

In the 2019-20 Crime Survey for England and Wales, nearly 9% of 16-24 year olds said they had taken nitrous oxide in the past year, up from 6.1% in 2012-13.

Experts say that as use of the drug has increased, so have cases of spinal cord and nerve damage, including paralysis.

“There is no doubt that we have seen an increase in cases, as this was almost unheard of last year and now [we] see cases weekly,” said Dr. Nikos Evangelou, an academic neurologist at the University of Nottingham.

Writing on Twitter, Evangelou described the situation as An epidemyHe added: “It’s terrifying to see young people paralyzed from laughing gas canisters.”

Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS trust, also called the problem an epidemic in a recent tik tok video.

“We are seeing dozens of young people who are admitted to the hospital because they do not have legs; some of them have life-changing neurological injuries,” he said.

Discovered by the chemist Joseph Priestley in 1772 – and later the subject of countless experiments other cartoons – Nitrous oxide became a useful tool in medical settings to treat severe pain.

Although it can induce laughter and hallucinations, it can also cause neurological problems by inactivating vitamin B12.

“Vitamin B12 is crucial in the production of myelin, which is the layer of fat that surrounds nerves in the body,” said Dr Trevor Pickersgill, consultant neurologist at the Cardiff and Vale University Board of Health. When B12 is inactivated by nitrous oxide, the myelin is no longer maintained in good condition. “That causes spinal cord damage, which can be irreversible if left untreated,” Pickersgill said.

Dr Mark Ellul, a specialist neurology registrar based in Liverpool, said cases of nerve damage from nitrous oxide use were common. “I would say as a unit we probably see a case every few weeks,” he said. “Most are young, and many were previously unaware that the substance could be harmful. In some cases, the effects can be quite severe and long-lasting.”

A study conducted by researchers in Strasbourg reported that five patients were admitted to a tertiary care facility between April 2020 and February 2021 with rapidly progressive neurological symptoms after using nitrous oxide.

“When I did a retrospective analysis of all patients admitted in the 10 years prior to April 2020, no patient had been diagnosed with neurological complications due to nitrous oxide abuse in our hospital,” said lead author Maximilian Einsiedler.

while it is illegal in the uk to supply nitrous oxide for human consumption or sell it to children, it is not illegal to possess the drug. Users often buy small silver canisters of gas, known as whippits due to their original purpose as whipped cream chargers, and inhale it from a balloon.

However, there are concerns that large gas canisters are becoming more common, with giant containers 80 times the size of whippits found on the streets of London after the Notting Hill carnival this weekend.

Harry Sumnall, a professor of substance use at Liverpool John Moores University, said there was a lack of hard data on the prevalence of serious problems from nitrous oxide use in the UK.

While Sumnall said even a relatively small increase in cases from a low baseline was cause for concern for neurologists, he said the people most at risk of significant complications were those exposed to large amounts of the gas.

“Just to put it in perspective, [there are] over 600,000 users in the UK, and most people, if they use it, will use it several times a year, with really low levels of risk,” he said.


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