‘Hippy crack’ is less damaging than alcohol and should never have been banned, the Government’s former drug tsar has said.
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, gives users a feeling of euphoria. It was outlawed by officials three years ago.
Professor David Nutt said nos, as it is sometimes known, was a ‘great British discovery’ used for pain relief, particularly in childbirth.
And he added alcohol is more dangerous than illegal drugs and people should limit their intake to a third of a glass of wine a day
Professor Nutt said: Why do people use nitrous oxide? Because it’s fun without the risks of alcohol.
‘Its effect is over in a few minutes – you’re perfectly safe, you can go back home, you can drive, you’re not going to be mugged, you’re not going to have a hangover.
‘It’s a logical alternative to alcohol for those people who don’t want to be impaired and it’s less toxic and less addictive.’
But drugs charity Frank warns: ‘If you take too much nitrous oxide you risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen.
‘People have died this way.’ Regular recreational users of laughing gas can end up suffering with a deficiency of vitamin B12 or anaemia.
A severe deficiency can lead to extreme nerve damage, causing pain, tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes.
The psychiatrist was sacked in 2009 as the government’s chief drug adviser after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
He stands by that claim, warning: ‘Alcohol is the most damaging drug in pretty much every Western country.’
Launching the second revised edition of his book, Drugs Without The Hot Air, Professor Nutt said: ‘Every family in Britain is damaged to some extent by alcohol.
‘If not in terms of physical or psychological damage, then in terms of the financial damage that excess drinking causes.’
He said over the last 10 years it was ‘very clear’ that there has been ‘absolutely no action whatsoever on the fact alcohol is the most harmful drug’.
But, he argued, any health gains from alcohol should be limited to consumption of 5g of alcohol per day – the equivalent of a third of a 175ml glass of wine.
If a bar refuses to sell such a small portion, he advised that people share drinks between friends.
‘I suggest you order a standard pint or a standard wine glass and three straws and share it with your friends,’ he said.
Professor Nutt – who earlier this month wrote in the Daily Mail’s Inspire section that alcohol can cause women to lose their libido – called for a complete overhaul of Britain’s drug policy.
Instead of simply banning drugs, the Government should provide regulated access to stop them turning to often more dangerous black market versions.
Under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, nitrous oxide is illegal to give away or sell, with a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
Stephen Ream, director of Re-Solv, the solvent abuse support charity, said: ‘Inhaling nitrous oxide, like any substance used for intoxication, carries risks.
‘It is rare, but some people have experienced significant problems with the substance after developing a psychological addiction.
‘There have been incidents of people using nitrous oxide while driving, which is concerning.
‘There have also been at least 19 deaths associated with inhaling nitrous oxide in the last six years in the UK.’
A spokesman for the Alcohol Information Partnership, which is funded by the alcohol industry, said: ‘Professor Nutt’s focus on the effects of harmful drinking should not be allowed to detract from the fact that, as evidenced by the latest Government figures, our relationship with alcohol has changed significantly over recent years, with the vast majority of UK citizens drinking alcohol within the recommended guidelines.’