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Amsterdam (dpa) - You inhale it from a balloon or suck it from a cream dispenser: more and more young people in Europe breathe in nitrous oxide for a quick intoxication.

The drug itself is comparatively inexpensive. And it's legal. In the Netherlands, there is growing trade in the gas that used to anesthetize patients at dentists. Addiction professionals are increasingly concerned.

Entrepreneur Mathieu Hölzken relies on the wave. He praises his "False Luft" store as "the first real nitrous oxide shop in the Netherlands". It is located in the Dutch border town of Venray, just a stone's throw from Krefeld or Mönchengladbach. There the 48-year-old sells a short intoxication from the balloon. The whole thing costs five euros. Hölzken's customers can get intoxicated on old cinema chairs, and a huge smiley smiley tears laughs from the walls - the company logo. Venray's mayor, Hans Gilissen, doesn't laugh: "We can't do so much about it, just warn that there are risks."

The number of poisonings is increasing

In the Netherlands, the consumption of nitrous oxide has increased dramatically, and the problems are becoming more and more apparent. Everyone can see the traces of consumption every day: dozens of empty metal capsules or balloons lie in parking lots, in green areas or streets. Experts warn of great risks. The number of poisonings from nitrous oxide has skyrocketed, reports the National Poisoning Information Center in Utrecht. While there was a total of 13 cases in 2015, 67 cases were reported in the first half of 2019. It is about dizzy spells, nausea and symptoms of paralysis.

According to the Dutch addiction report, every fifth young person between the ages of 20 and 24 has inhaled nitrous oxide. It is also increasingly becoming a popular and inexpensive party drug in the group up to 35 years of age. More and more cities are sounding the alarm and calling for a ban. The Ministry of Health is looking into regulating sales.

Laughing gas or nitrous oxide has been available legally since 2016 and can be found in capsules for cream dispensers, for example. According to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, it no longer falls under the strict Medicines Act. However, it is still used for anesthesia in small operations, for example at the dentist's. The gas is either inhaled from the cream cartridges or from balloons filled with it. This leads to a brief intoxication of 30 seconds to a few minutes at most. Consumers report increased sensory impressions and tingling sensations all over their bodies. Some giggle wildly.

Excessive consumption can have serious consequences

Laughter can quickly go away. With "average consumption" of five to ten capsules once a month, the party drug is relatively harmless, according to the health department. But in combination with alcohol or other drugs and especially with excessive consumption, the gas could lead to permanent damage to the central nervous system and paralysis. And more and more Dutch people would inhale up to 50 cartridges a day and over a longer period of time, according to the latest report on poisoning.

Cream capsules can be bought online or in the supermarket. Every child can do this and it is not expensive. Large packs of 200 pieces are already available for 50 euros. The sales outlets are also springing up like mushrooms. Deniz Üresin is the "laughing gas king" in Amsterdam. In the evenings and at night he delivers around ten cargo bikes to customers in the pub districts. "I earn a lot of money," he says. His couriers sell filled balloons, and customers inhale the gas directly on the street. The 25-year-old entrepreneur gives his customers good advice - free of charge: "Better to inhale while sitting, otherwise you will fall over and have to go to first aid."

Amsterdam has had enough of the supposed fun drug. Entrepreneurs and residents complain about noise, rioting youth groups and the rubbish on the streets. Other municipalities also want a ban. Some cities have already banned sales, at least at major events.

Cases of abuse in Denmark

Germany’s western neighbor is not the only hot spot. In Denmark, too, a majority of the parties want to regulate the sale of nitrous oxide cartridges. According to the authorities, the number of cases of abuse is increasing continuously. In 2017, for example, the telephone hotline for poisoning counted 18 reports, in 2018 there were already 39. In Copenhagen there are increasing reports of anxiety attacks, frostbite from ice-cold cartridges or long-term poor concentration. "These are people who have been consuming the gas for a long time. They take 50, 100 or 200 nitrous oxide cartridges a day," said Dorte Fris Palmqvist, senior doctor at Bispebjerg Hospital of the Berlingske newspaper.

In the German drug and addiction report, laughing gas does not yet play a role. But in the party scene it occurs occasionally, according to the office of the drug commissioner of the federal government. There are no reliable figures. A study by drug researchers at the University of Frankfurt made it clear in 2018 that the number of young people using nitrous oxide has doubled in three years. According to this, 12 percent of the young people had tried laughing gas before.