Navigating Addiction: Nangs

Beyond decorative pieces at dorm room parties, balloons have now found themselves as a means to deliver a brief high in the form of a gas.

This gas is nitrous oxide, or what a uni student may refer to as nangs.

Nitrous oxide is a gas that is widely used as a medical sedative. It is also commonly found as an aerosol propellant in making whipped cream oh so fantastic and fluffy.

It was first used recreationally back in the late 1700s when the prestigious British upper class would host “laughing gas” parties. Now, the 21st century has heralded widespread use of nangs in the party scene as a cheap and easily accessible high nestled in a metal canister.

Although not outright shunning the use of nitrous oxide to the benefit of fellow whipped cream lovers, the law has tightened regulations on the distribution of the chemical. It is an offence punishable by law to sell these canisters as a recreational drug.

UON’s Drug and Alcohol Counsellor, Michelle Lampis, is urging students to be cautious and aware of the negative side effects of this trending drug.

“[Nitrous oxide] distorts your perceptions, your sight and sound. It produces a feeling of detachment,” Michelle explains. Nitrous oxide is classified as a dissociative type drug under the hallucinogen class. She also warns us of the consequences associated with nitrous oxide use.

For instance, these canisters are at risk of exploding due to the highly compressed air within. The gas is also stored in a frozen form. As such, improper use may result in serious frostbite to the lips, nose or throat. Risks of falling are common among the use of dissociative drugs, not to mention the elevated risks that come with mixing drugs.

Michelle also mentions a recent case of bingeing on nangs, which caused a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency resulting in spinal cord injury. Excessive inhalation of nitrous oxide under non-medical conditions may also result in a nasty case of hypoxia of the brain (a lack of oxygen supply to living tissue). This is due to the lack of oxygen inhaled with recreational use. Not the kind of trouble you would want on a Friday night!

Finally, nitrous oxide has the potential to result in an addiction.

“When something is giving you an intense hit, your brain creates its own conditioning response to that process. It is possible to develop a psychological addiction,” says Michelle.

Due to the recent popularity of nangs, research has yet to determine just how much of a problem nitrous-oxide poses.

If after weighing up the risks and you’re still keen to give it a try, Michelle heavily endorses a harm-minimisation approach.

“I think it is about people making an informed choice about everything. Knowing what the risks are, knowing how best to minimise the harm,” she advises.

Michelle’s recommendations on safe practices which using nangs include:

  1. Always sit down when inhaling and have a reliable mate around.
  2. Inhale it in the most controlled way possible through a balloon.
  3. Take a breath of oxygen between hits.
  4. Be wary of mixing substances (alcohol and other drugs) as this could detrimentally increase the effect of any one of the substances.

If you’re struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, there are confidential and professional support services on campus available to you. You can be referred to a drug and alcohol counsellor through a student support advisor or seek help by accessing the counsellor service here.