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HSE National Inclusion Office seeking information regarding young people and use of NO2 Canisters


The HSE National Inclusion Office are seeking information regarding young people and use of NO2 canisters aka ‘balloons’ or ‘whippets’.

Nitrous Oxide is a colourless gas that has a number of medicinal and industrial uses. Medicinally is used as a short acting anaesthetic and pain reliever which can aid in minor medical procedures and during childbirth (mixed with oxygen as entonox). Industrially it can be used to froth food preparations or as a propellant for whipped cream.

Nitrous oxide is also misused to get euphoric or dissociative effects and it can make users feel intoxicated or ‘high’. The name ‘laughing gas’ was associated with the drug over a century ago due to the euphoric effect it causes in the user.

When used as a drug for euphoric properties, it can be legally purchased in small silver canisters, the gas transferred to a balloon and then inhaled for a euphoric effect. It can also be sold directly from balloons that are filled from large canisters, such as those sold within the night time economy in holiday destinations internationally but not in Ireland.

In the case of ‘whippets’ which are the small canisters, they have to be fitted into and released from a small canister into a whipped cream dispenser or a smaller gadget called a cracker. This has a balloon/ bag fitted to the release valve so that when the lever is pressed the balloon fills with gas which can then be inhaled. Serious damage could be done to the lungs if the gas was inhaled directly from capsules or cylinders, it must always be inhaled from a balloon.

The HSE National Inclusion Office are looking for people to answer the 12 short questions located below. The data collected from the questionnaire will inform future actions in terms of prevention and education for misuse of Nitrous Oxide Gas.

Send the answers by email to or print them and post them to National Social Inclusion Office, Health Service Executive, Mill Lane, Palmerstown, Dublin 20, D20 KH63

HSE National Inclusion Office Questionnaire:

1. Please state your area:

2. Have you noted an increase in the use of nitrous oxide in your area?

3. Had the use of nitrous oxide been emerging prior to the COVID-19 period? (please provide a timeline)

4. Please indicate the source for identifying this trend (addiction/youth services, parents, GPs, media reports, drug litter locally)

5. Please state the demographics of users (age/under or over 18), do they live within your locality or visiting to use?)

6. Are you aware of where use is happening locally (domestic settings, parks etc)

7. Are the using cohort engaged with services or supports?

8. Do you know the administration practices for this substance? (are they using balloons or directly from canisters?)

9. Is this cohort also using other substances? (either separate or as part of a poly pattern)

10. What are the identified local harms? (local presentations to GPs, hospitals, addiction services, litter, location of use)

11. Are you aware of the source for accessing nitrous oxide? (illegal suppliers, online, home delivery)

12. If you have any other comments please state: