Following the death of 18 year-old Ally Calvert on Saturday, new questions are being asked about the availability of Nitrous Oxide, more commonly known as Laughing Gas.
The gas has been related to the deaths of 17 people between 2006 and 2012, but Calvert’s death was the first since the introduction of new legislation banning the chemical, amongst other legal highs.
The ban, introduced in May, is aimed at the ‘head shops’ which distribute legal highs, and whilst it doesn’t prohibit possession of the gas, the bill gives police powers to search and shut down those they think might be selling it.
The legislation follows an Irish bill which led to the closure of almost a hundred high street head shops. However, legislators hit a stumbling block when they learned that nitrous oxide isn’t always used as a recreational drug: it's also used to make whipped cream.
Due to this, the sale of laughing gas wasn’t pushed underground. Instead, under a tongue-in-cheek pretense, the whipped cream business is bigger than ever.
The figures alone tell a story: last year at Glastonbury alone, more than two tonnes of the small metal canisters were recovered after the festival, and a 2014 Health Warning released by the Local Government Association estimated that more than 500,000 people were taking it.
Matt, a 20-year-old student from Hampshire, is a regular buyer.
“When you’re at uni you can pretty much guarantee that you have a friend who ‘knows a guy’ who sells canisters - that’s how I first got some," he tells the Huffington Post UK.
“When local suppliers run out it’s pretty easy to just go on places like Amazon to buy boxes of them. One of my friends uses a wholesale site and buys them by the thousand.”
Laughing gas is increasingly popular among young people, with recent data from The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs indicating almost 10% of 16 to 24 year olds have tried it, making it the second most popular recreational drug after cannabis. Matt believes that an air of legitimacy lends the gas it’s popularity.
“People who wouldn't usually take drugs feel that it doesn't fall into that category; there’s no stigma attached to it in the same way weed has.
“Some have even began starting their own little businesses selling it - they have business cards, and merchandise, and they can deliver it to your door. That way it seems a lot more legitimate than the way other drug dealers operate.”
One such business owner, who operates along the South Coast, added selling such things is a no brainer for students looking to make quick money. “It’s like any other business - advertise, supply it cheap enough, and find your customers."
Customers on the Facebook page even commented with enthusiastic remarks about their new-found love for "cream toppings".
Use of the drug can lead to loss of blood pressure, fainting, and heart attacks, and can be especially damaging to people with chronic respiratory issues such as asthma. Re-Solv is a charity dedicated to preventing the abuse of volatile substances like laughing gas.
“It’s a serious problem in the UK, but remains one of the least talked about," a spokesperson told HuffPost UK. "Volatile substance abuse can and does suddenly and unpredictably kill, and that there is no ‘safe’ way to do it that avoids this risk.”
Although the drug seems to be increasing in popularity, Matt adds that people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers.
“After recent events, people are definitely starting to think that there can be consequences to taking it.”