'Nangs', or nitrous oxide cartridges, are legal and easily obtained as chargers for whipped cream guns. When inhaled, the gas delivers a brief 20-second high. Image source: WikiCommons

By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire community leaders have voiced concerns about a possible increase in the use of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug by young people in the region.

Former Mitchell Shire councillor Bob Humm said the issue came to his attention last month when he noticed a collection of small metallic cylinders left near the intersection of Rutledge and Powlett streets in Kilmore.

Mr Humm said after enquiring with several people he was told the cylinders were nitrous oxide cartridges, most commonly sold as a propellant for whipped cream.

The gas within the cartridges can be used as a drug, often referred to as nangs. It is typically discharged into a balloon from which the user inhales.

Nangs produce a short high, typically of about 20 seconds, during which users can experience euphoria, mild sedation and sometimes psychedelic dissociation.

Nitrous oxide has been used recreationally since the 1800s and can be known as laughing gas.

Long-term use of nitrous oxide can lead to oxygen deprivation and vitamin B12 deficiency, which has the potential to cause nerve damage.

According the ABC, there have been two recorded deaths from recreational nitrous oxide use in Australia since 2010.

It can be difficult to monitor the sale of nitrous oxide as the cartridges can legally be sold as a whipped cream propellant and can be bought easily and cheaply.

Mr Humm said other people he had talked to had encountered used cartridges left near bus stops.

He said he was concerned young people could risk long-term health effects from the abuse of nangs.

“Kids obviously think they’re having a good time with it, but at the same time they could be doing damage to themselves,” he said.

“It could lead to something else if that’s what’s happening. It staggered me when I found out what they were.”

Mr Humm suggested Mitchell Shire Council could engage schools and other youth groups proactively to discuss the use of nangs with young people.

Nexus Primary Health alcohol and other drugs team leader Erica Heers said the group had already been approached by schools requesting support regarding reported use of nangs.

“We are in the process of working collaboratively to provide in-school information to raise awareness of the harms and risks associated with substance misuse,” she said.

Nexus chief executive Amanda Mullins said the format and timing of the school presentations would depend on Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions.

She said it was difficult to say if there had been an increase in the use of nangs in the region, but that Nexus was committed to working with schools to reduce drug-related harm among young people.

“It’s hard to know whether there’s an increased incidence or whether kids are just getting caught more because there’s more working from home and people are in and out of lockdown,” she said.

“The Nexus Youth alcohol and other drugs team generally has as its focus the safety, health and wellbeing of young people and we look forward to working closely with the schools to educate and support them in this space.”

Mr Humm said he was in favour of increased drug education in schools.

“I’m not into drugs at all. I hate them. I’ve seen them do too much damage to too many people in my lifetime,” he said.

“If it gets out there and maybe the schools can start talking to the kids about it, we can have a conversation and start asking some hard questions.”