Nitrous oxide not addictive? Think again!

Nitrous oxide is a ticking time bomb

They say that the chance of becoming addicted to laughing gas is not great. But our columnist, addict in recovery and experience expert Mick Boskamp thinks his own. Here he explains - also from his own experience - why di-nitrogen monoxide (NO2), better known as laughing gas, is a ticking time bomb.

photography: Robert Oosterbroek

Nitrous oxide on King's Day

King's Day 2019, Amsterdam, 7 pm. During the surrealist walk through the Kalverstraat I counted more than 20 young people sitting or lying groggy on the floor. Sometimes a group of concerned friends would gather around a victim. And judging from the many whipped cream patterns that were scattered across the street between Muntplein and Dam Square, I didn't get the idea that King alcohol had anything to do with it. Every few meters I came across a boy or a few boys with balloons, which were eagerly taken away. Two officers who kept their distance only laughed a little.

Nitrous oxide and neuropathy

When New York dentist Dr. Dennis Bohlin had seen what I had seen that evening on King's Day, then he was shocked. Thirty years ago he started using laughing gas on a daily basis. And not to anaesthetize his patients (in America, nitrous oxide is mainly used by dentists as an anesthetic). "I saw it as an alternative to the beer at the end of the day," he says in an interview with Time Magazine. "And laughing gas was available and within reach." In addition to becoming addicted to the drug, he also developed neuropathy (a disease affecting the nerves of the arms and legs, resulting in excruciating chronic pain) and lost sensation in the fingers and legs, making him unable to continue. work as a dentist.

Choked on own vomit

Bohlin has been clean and sober for 30 years now. At AA meetings, he had a hard time at first because no one could identify with his particular addiction. But along the way, he found people who had the same problem as him, fellows he is still in touch with years later. For people who use or want to use laughing gas, it has a bold, bold warning. 'Stop it or don't start it! I also had the advantage, if you want to call it that, that I could use nitrous oxide the way dentists use it, namely mixed with oxygen. The biggest danger with those whipped cream cartridges is that there is no oxygen in them. This can lead to hypoxia, in which your brain and tissues absorb too little oxygen. If it takes a few minutes, it can lead to permanent brain damage or even death. I knew a colleague who was also addicted. And he choked on his own vomit after excessive use of laughing gas. '

Nitrous oxide

How fortunate I was that I became familiar with laughing gas in 1998. In that year there were no crackers with which you can empty whipped cream cartridges into balloons, without having to use large devices such as tanks or whipped cream syringes. That summer I was at the Loveparade in Berlin, where I ended up at a private party in the evening, where there was a tank of laughing gas and everyone was allowed to use as many balloons as he or she wanted. I can't remember much about that night itself, except that I was constantly sucking on a balloon (and later was sucking) and that I couldn't stop because I loved the feelings of excitement, fun and unapproachability.

Escaped fate

In the years that followed, I took that experience with me as an addict without inhibitions. And after I decided in December 2002 to celebrate New Years Eve at our house with some friends and lots of drugs, I started looking for a laughing gas supplier for that extra kick. After a lot of calling back and forth, I got the phone number of someone who delivered a laughing gas tank to home, a ten kilo tank from which about a thousand balloons could be collected. I had to pay 300 euros in advance. Then he would deliver the tank on New Year's Eve. I never saw or spoke to that man again. After blocking my phone number, he left with the northern sun. I didn't see it that way then, but now I know that I was lucky and almost landed a ticking time bomb.

How far does it still have to go?

Last week I read on the NOS site that Veilig Verkeer Nederland is launching a social media campaign against nitrous oxide use in traffic. The campaign follows the news that the number of nitrous oxide incidents in traffic has increased sharply. In 2016 it was still 60 cases, this year the counter is already at 960. Using laughing gas behind the wheel, not being able to wait until you get to your destination. If that's not addiction behavior ...