The Dangers of Nitrous Oxide

May 29, 2023 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

The misuse and illicit sale of nitrous oxide for recreational use has become alarming in the last few years. Nitrous oxide, an anesthetic agent found in medical and dental procedures, has recently been abused at music festivals and other realms for partygoers.

What is misleading about the substance is that it is legal to purchase it in Florida. However, there are criminal penalties for possessing over a certain quantity. The unauthorized possession, sale, or distribution of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes is considered a criminal offense.

Aside from the potential legal implications, nitrous oxide is a dangerous gas that can cause long-term health issues. Prolonged abuse of nitrous oxide could lead to oxygen deprivation, cardiac problems, neurological damage, or less commonly, death. Continuous abuse of nitrous oxide could also lead to addiction and other mental health issues.

This page will delve into the substance nitrous oxide and its potential health risks, along with the penalties for unlawful possession and sale of nitrous oxide by both the State and Federal government.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous Oxide is a colorless gas that is stored as a liquid. The substance has been used in multiple industries, such as in anesthetic equipment, surgical patients, and storage cylinders. Nitrous oxide can be clinically used as a safe anesthetic and is often used for its anti-anxiety affects.

Other names for nitrous oxide include:

  • Laughing gas
  • Nitro
  • N2O
  • NOS
  • Nangs
  • Whippets
  • Hippy Crack
  • Buzz Bomb
  • Balloons

Over the years, nitrous oxide has become increasingly popular to use recreationally for “huffing.” When people use nitrous oxide for recreational use, they typically purchase it in single-use silver cannisters, often referred to as “crackers.” The gas is then dispensed into a balloon and inhaled to receive a short-lasting feeling of euphoria and relaxation.

Although it is rare to see a death caused by inhaling nitrous oxide, neurologists claim it is becoming almost as dangerous as cocaine. Long-term health problems caused by nitrous oxide include nerve damage, memory loss, and paralysis.

“I’ve been a neurologist for 21 years and have seen a definite change in how it’s being used, since the pandemic,” said UK-based Dr. David Nicholl. “Compared to before, now the volumes of nitrous oxide being consumed can be quite terrifying—up to 150 cylinders per day.”

Dr. Nicholl addressed how using the slang term “laughing gas” for the substance makes it seem less harmful than it really is. This can be misleading and dangerous to young people looking to experiment with nitrous oxide.

Nitrous Oxide Goes Viral on Social Media

A 2021 report from the New York Times covered the increasingly popular trend of nitrous oxide in the United States, partially due to its virality online. On the social media platform TikTok, the search term “Whiptok” and “nitrous” has collectively received over 479.6 million views. Images and videos of young individuals inhaling or “huffing” nitrous oxide at music festivals, raves, and parties have all increased in both the U.S. and in Europe.

In response to its virality online, “Jackass” star Stephen “Steve-O” Gilchrist Glover, now sober after abusing the substance, commented on the influence of social media.

“It’s definitely more, like, relevant now,” Glover stated about friends and other individuals experimenting with the drug and posting it online.

While the health concerns from nitrous oxide pose a real threat to those who abuse it, it is currently legal to purchase nitrous oxide in the U.S. and in Florida. However, it is illegal to inhale the gas for recreational purposes.

Florida Law on Nitrous Oxide

The state of Florida has specific laws regarding the consumption, purchase, and sale of harmful chemical substances. Under Florida Statute Section 877.111, it is unlawful for any person to inhale, ingest, or possess with the intent to inhale, digest, or drink, any compound, either liquid or chemical, that contains:

  • Toluol
  • Hexane
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Acetone
  • Toluene
  • Ethyl Acetate
  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone
  • Trichloroethane
  • Isopropanol
  • Methyl Isobutyl Ketone
  • Ethylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether Acetate
  • Cyclohexanone
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Diethyl Ether
  • Alkyl Nitrites (Butyl Nitrite)
  • Any other substance for the purpose of inducing intoxication or distorts the person’s auditory, visual, or mental processes.

Any person who possesses, buys, sells, or otherwise transfers any chemical substance for the purpose of inducing or aiding another person in consuming can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. The penalties in Florida for a second-degree misdemeanor include up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. However, nitrous oxide is exempt from this section.

The charges and penalties for nitrous oxide are for any person who knowingly distributes, sells, purchases, transfers, or possesses over 16 grams of nitrous oxide. If a person is caught with the possession of over 16 grams of nitrous oxide can be charged with a third-degree felony. The penalties in Florida for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years of imprisonment.

Federal Penalties for Misbranding Drugs

Currently, possession of nitrous oxide is legal under federal law. However, the substance is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act.

However, a person can be federally prosecuted for the misbranding of nitrous oxide, to sell or distribute it for the purposes of human consumption. The prohibited acts under 21 U.S. Code § 331 include:

  • The introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of any food, drug, device, tobacco product, or cosmetic that is altered or misbranded;
  • The adulteration or misbranding of any food, drug, device, tobacco product, or cosmetic in interstate commerce;
  • The receipt in interstate commerce of any food, drug, device, tobacco product, or cosmetic in interstate commerce; and
  • The manufacture within any territory of any food, drug, device, tobacco product, or cosmetic that is adulterated or misbranded.

A person facing a federal charge of misbranding a drug is considered a misdemeanor offense under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The penalties for violating federal law and misbranding nitrous oxide include up to one year in federal prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

Example Case

In March 2013, four individuals in California were arrested in relation to the unlawful sale of nitrous oxide. According to the report filed through the United States District Court, the four defendants were accused of misbranding nitrous oxide to distribute the substance for personal use.

The 15-month long investigation titled “Operation No Laughing Matter” was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

Three of the defendants were charged with selling misbranded nitrous oxide out of Victor Welding Supply in South Los Angeles. The fourth defendant was charged with misbranding nitrous oxide out of LA Rush, Inc.

The following is a statement from FDA Special Agent Lisa Malinowski regarding the case:

“Today’s large-scale enforcement operation demonstrates the commitment of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) to protect the health and safety of the public from the harms inherent in being exposed to unsafe and potentially life-threatening misbranded drugs. OCI will continue to aggressively pursue those involved in the sale of misbranded drugs and will strive to ensure that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Florida prosecutors take drug charges seriously, meaning they will likely try to enforce the toughest penalties. If you or someone you know is facing charges for nitrous oxide or other controlled substances, your first step should be reaching out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. An experienced lawyer can help review your case details and work towards building a strong defense for your case.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have spent years helping Floridians earn back their freedom and their future. We will fight vigorously for each of our clients and ensure none of their rights are violated throughout the legal proceedings. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.

Written by Karissa Key

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