Exclusive: Thousands of students from across Australia set to descend upon the Gold Coast for Schoolies have been warned to steer clear of inhaling nitrous oxide.
Medical experts have told News Corp the gas, which is sold in canisters and is more commonly known as ‘nangs’, can even cause death.
New data shows nitrous oxide use has more than doubled among young people who use illicit stimulant drugs including ecstasy, cocaine and MDMA.
Figures from the University of NSW Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System showed one quarter of young Australians aged in their teens to mid-twenties in this category used the drug in 2004, which has exploded to more than half this year.
Queensland Ambulance Service and major Schoolies group Red Frogs have both raised the alarm over using nitrous oxide as a recreational drug.
News Corp also contacted a number of stores near the popular Cavill Ave precinct where Schoolies is held, and found a pack of 10 canisters was being sold for just $10.
There was at least one instance on a Schoolies Facebook group where teens were seemingly discussing nangs.
One post read: “How popular are these this year,” accompanied by a picture of a cream dispenser, which is commonly used to release the gas from the canisters.
There are also signs nitrous oxide is being peddled on social media by suppliers.
News Corp uncovered several Facebook pages advertising nang delivery services in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth that sold canisters for as little as $1 each – with promotions where you could get more for free.
UNSW Senior Research Fellow Dr Amy Peacock told News Corp those using nangs could experience dizziness, poor co-ordination, and confusion. Combining it with other drugs could also increase pressure on the heart.
But heavy and long-term use could have dire consequences.
“With heavy use, people may experience low blood pressure, unconsciousness, and, in rare cases, death by hypoxia (from insufficient oxygen),” Dr Peacock said.
She added there was evidence sustained misuse could cause nerve damage and severe neurological problems.
Red Frogs founder Andy Gourley told News Corp it was dangerous to use nangs when mixed with other drugs.
While a single canister might only deliver a rush of about 20 seconds, he said young people would often go through many nangs in a single session.
He said the canisters were everywhere at Schoolies last year.
“It was never meant for recreational use and can kill,” Mr Gourley said.
“The thing that concerns us is combining it with alcohol or other drugs, especially for those schoolies who might be staying in high-rise towers with balconies.”
Last year, police sources told The Daily Telegraph a teen who fell from a balcony during Schoolies had been ingesting nitrous oxide after a night of drinking with friends.
Queensland Ambulance Service clinical director Tony Hucker echoed the concerns.
“These substances can change your behaviour; you can become more of a risk-taker which can be dangerous,” he said.
Mr Gourley said it was “really disturbing” to see local convenience stores stocking up on nangs to sell to teenage revellers.
Despite the health risks, the sale of nitrous oxide is legal in Queensland. In other states, it is illegal for sellers to supply it to people they believe may misuse the gas, but this is difficult to enforce.
South Australia’s State Government is moving to ban sales of nitrous oxide between 10pm and 5am, as well as keeping the canisters hidden in stores and establishing a minimum purchase age of 18. A sales register is also being investigated.