Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas that is most commonly found in pressurised metal canisters and is typically inhaled through a balloon.
Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the canister is extremely dangerous because the gas is under such high pressure - the muscles in a person's throat can go into spasm, stopping them from breathing.
So why do people, especially young people, take the risk?
Nitrous oxide slows down bodily and brain responses, with the effect varying on how much the individual inhales. Generally, a user will feel a sense of euphoria, relaxation and calmness.
Nitrous oxide, dubbed 'laughing gas', can induce fits of giggles and laughter, and in some instances, sound distortions and hallucinations.
Concerns over growing use of nitrous oxide among young people. Image credit Armand Watts
With any recreational drug, the duration and effects depend on the individual's response and amount taken. When combined with other drugs, the effects of nitrous oxide can be entirely unpredictable and highly dangerous.
As of 2016, the drug is covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act, making it illegal to both supply and consume. Many fear that the law to stop abuse is not working.
A growing issue in the UK, the use of laughing gas by young people has soared in recent years, causing widespread social concern. Figures estimate the gas is taken by more than one in ten men and one in fifteen women aged 16 to 24.
Young people are ignoring the lethal risks of nitrous oxide, with deaths in 2019 doubling from the previous year.
The drug has caused a total of 36 deaths in England and Wales since 2001.
Many young people are unaware of the long-term physical and psychological damage the gas can cause, placing themselves in very serious danger when using the easily accessible drug.
A box of 24 canisters costs as little as £10 and can be purchased on eBay and Amazon.
The frequent presence of silver canisters on the streets, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, is a visible mark of the increasing incidence of laughing gas misuse.
Reports from police show how widespread the problem is. In May, 400 canisters were confiscated from young people racing cars around a country park in Dartford, Kent.