Two cases of people charged with supplying laughing gas have collapsed after it was deemed by judges that the ‘legal high’ falls into an exempt category.

Judges at Taunton and Southwark crown courts both came to the same conclusion in cases involving the intended sale of the familiar silver canisters at Glastonbury and another festival in Derbyshire.

It was admitted by the prosecution that the Crown’s own expert witness, Professor Philip Cowen, had expressed: “the firm view that nitrous oxide, as the legislation is currently worded, is an exempt substance.”

Nitrous Oxide’s common use as a pain reliever in dentistry or during childbirth was part of the reason the courts applied the exemption due to it being deemed a ‘medical substance’.

Although this was not a ‘test case’ and it is still the case each new prosecution would have to be treated on its merits it is understood the CPS is to carry out a full review of the law as it stands.

Some 50 people have already pleaded guilty to charges involving supply of Nitrous Oxide, and these cases may also need to be reviewed.


Short-term effects of the gas are a feeling of elation, but mental performance can be affected, with a loss of dexterity and general disorientation and dizziness as additional side effects.

Oxygen starvation is possible if the gas is consumed in an enclosed space, or from a plastic bag, and this can potentially lead to unconsciousness or death.

Long-term use is linked to Vitamin B12 depletion, which can produce fatigue, personality changes and problems with concentration, ultimately resulting in severe nerve damage.

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