Healthy living

Nitrous oxide (nangs)

Nitrous oxide is a colourless, non-flammable gas with various uses, including:

  • as anaesthetic and pain reliever medicine.
  • in domestic and commercial catering settings as a propellant for whipped cream, to infuse flavours into alcoholic drinks, and to create mousses and foams.
  • in the automotive industry to enhance engine performance.

People sometimes deliberately inhale nitrous oxide to produce mood altering effects. It is sometimes called ‘laughing gas’, ‘nangs’, ‘bulbs’, ‘whippets’ or 'NOS’. There are health risks involved with inhaling nitrous oxide.

Health effects on nitrous oxide

Inhaling nitrous oxide can have harmful effects.


Frequently inhaling large amounts of nitrous oxide can lead to:

  • numbness and tingling in the hands or feet
  • poor balance and coordination
  • memory loss
  • permanent brain and spinal cord damage
  • incontinence
  • anaemia
  • limb spasms
  • weakened immune system
  • disruption to reproductive systems
  • psychological disturbances

Other harms linked to nitrous oxide include:

  • impaired driving
  • risk of miscarriage, birth defects, kidney and liver disorders
  • explosion when using a pressurised gas
  • cold burns to the skin
  • damage to the lungs
  • hypoxia (lack of oxygen), which can be fatal

Buying and selling of nitrous oxide

For medical use, nitrous oxide is a prescription only medicine – possession, prescription and supply is limited to certain health practitioners and authorised persons.

For all other uses, nitrous oxide is a Schedule 6 poison – manufacturers must follow packaging and labelling rules, and apply mandatory warnings. Since 2022, nitrous oxide in Schedule 6, including for food use, must be labelled with the words:

  • WARNING – May cause irreversible nerve damage if inhaled
  • Do not intentionally inhale contents

Despite these warning labels, supply of nitrous oxide to people who inhale it has continued, resulting in harmful effects for some of these people.

The Medicines and Poisons Regulations will be amended to strictly limit access to nitrous oxide in Schedule 6.

Under the new regulations, nitrous oxide for food use will only be accessible to:

  • legitimate food businesses
  • selected businesses with a liquor licence
  • other persons approved by the Department of Health

Information for suppliers and buyers of nitrous oxide is available on the WA health website (external site)

More information

For more informaiton visit Drug Aware (external site)

Getting help

If you, or someone you know is affected by the use of nitrous oxide or other substances, you can get help at:

  • Call one of the Alcohol and Drug 24-hour support lines (external site) – providing confidential counselling, information, advice and referral. Or call 1800here4u (1800 437 348) 7am - 10pm, 7 days a week.
  • See your GP
  • Call healthdirect (external site) 1800 022 222.
  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance – police are not called unless a death has occurred or ambulance officers are threatened.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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