Key things to know
The effects last between 30 seconds and 5 minutes▼ What to expect
Discharge the gas into a balloon to avoid freeze burns▼ Safer using
Sitting down during use can help avoid accidents▼ Tips to stay safe
Nitrous oxide can cause you to have low vitamin B12, which can lead to serious nerve damage. People with low B12 should not use nitrous oxide▼ Long-term effects
What to expect
How does nitrous oxide make you feel?
Nitrous oxide, also known as NOS or nangs, can make you feel relaxed, euphoric, and giggly. It can also cause hallucinations and make you feel dizzy or uncoordinated. Nitrous oxide is short-lasting, usually from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and wears off quickly. Most effects, both pleasant and unpleasant, are very short lived.
Keep in mind that using nitrous oxide with alcohol or other drugs may change the way it makes you feel.
Moderate Dose (one canister)
Floating feeling, being in a ‘dreamlike state’
Lack of coordination
*Hallucinations and dissociation may be pleasant for some people, and unpleasant for others.
High Dose (a couple of canisters in a row)
Very High Dose (repeated use of nitrous oxide)
Intense short-lived paranoia
Hypoxia (not getting enough oxygen)
Long-term use or very high doses of nitrous oxide can cause you to have low vitamin B12, which can lead to nerve damage and can be serious. People with a pre-existing B12 deficiency should not use nitrous oxide. Ask your doctor to check your B12 levels before using nitrous oxide.
How can you be safer when using nitrous oxide?
How you use nitrous oxide is one of the most important things to consider when it comes to staying safer.
Discharge the gas into a balloon. Discharging the gas straight from the canister can cause freeze burns (as they are very cold!). The pressure inside the canister can also cause ruptures to lung tissue. Discharging the gas into a balloon can help avoid burns and allow the pressure to normalize before you inhale it. You can also use a whipped cream dispenser with a nozzle.
Don’t use open flames (including cigarettes). Nitrous oxide itself is not flammable, but it increases the combustion of other substances, so it is wise to not use it around open flames, candles, cigarettes, or other flammable materials.
Sit down when you use. An easy risk to manage with nitrous oxide is to sit somewhere comfortable before you use. Standing up while, or directly after using can result in falling over and hurting yourself (or someone around you!).
Avoid mixing with other substances. Like with many substances, combining nitrous oxide with other drugs or medicines can increase your risk of having an unpleasant experience. Combining nitrous oxide with other central nervous system depressants such as GHB/GBL, alcohol or opioids can lead to unconsciousness in high doses.
Watch your B12 and take it easy. Using lots of nitrous oxide on a regular basis can result in vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause nerve damage and can be dangerous. It's a good idea to get your B12 levels checked before using nitrous oxide. Take breaks in between sessions and consider limiting the number of canisters you use. If you experience side effects of low B12 such as numbness or difficulty moving fingers, lips, or other parts of the body, tiredness or poor memory, take a break from using nitrous oxide and consult your doctor.
Remember to be a tidy kiwi and dispose of your nitrous oxide canisters appropriately! (i.e. don’t throw them on the street).
For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.
To order self-help workbooks and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.
If you’ve had too much
What happens if you have too much nitrous oxide?
It is very rare to overdose on nitrous oxide. In rare cases taking lots of nitrous oxide can cause you to become unconscious or suffocate from a lack of oxygen.
In most cases, if you’ve used too much nitrous oxide you might feel dizzy, lightheaded, tired, confused or a little out of breath.
- Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths.
- If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
- Do not take more nitrous oxide, caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
- Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
If you start having more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, falling unconscious, severe coughing, or choking or blue lips and/or fingertips you or someone around you should Call 111 immediately as these can be signs of suffocation.
What do comedowns from nitrous oxide feel like, and how can you feel better?
Very few people report comedowns from nitrous oxide. However, if you use nitrous oxide very often you might experience some mild effects.
Feel like you have cravings to use more nitrous oxide
You can try...
Get plenty of rest and sleep
Remember to eat and drink plenty of water
Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals
Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support
Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs
Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feelings
What are the long-term effects of using nitrous oxide?
Long-term effects from nitrous oxide are relatively rare, however if you are using large amounts regularly, you may experience some unpleasant side effects. Nitrous oxide does not have a high addiction potential, but some people may have cravings to use more, especially after a period of using heavily.
In rare cases, long term nitrous oxide use can cause Vitamin B12 deficiency. Low Vitamin B12 can make you feel tired, breathless, confused, and depressed (and many other symptoms). This can be fixed with Vitamin B12 treatment. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage, and there have been cases of this reported linked to heavy nitrous oxide use.
Other long-term effects of nitrous oxide can include memory problems, limb weakness and depression; but research suggests that these effects may also be a result of low vitamin B12. If you have pre-existing heart problems, there is some evidence that heavy use of nitrous oxide can increase the risk of having heart complications.
Some research shows that heavy nitrous oxide use can include reproductive risks and risk to pregnancy, so it is generally recommended that pregnant woman avoid using nangs, especially in large quantities.
How do you manage withdrawal from nitrous oxide?
See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
Nitrous oxide is not known to cause dependence or withdrawal symptoms in most people. However, some people may find themselves having cravings to use more nangs after stopping.
If you are feeling a little unwell after you stop using, try:
- Lean on a support network of friends, family, and professionals
- Stick to a routine: waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy
- Practice mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating
Working and driving
How can nitrous oxide affect your daily activities?
Nitrous oxide is very short lived (a few seconds to a few minutes), so it is very unlikely to affect your work or your driving. However, using nitrous oxide while driving is very dangerous.
Some people may feel mildly hazy or feel the ‘aftereffects’ of nitrous oxide for a short period after using, so it is always a good idea to wait a little while before driving, operating machinery, or working.
Is Nitrous Oxide Illegal?
The legality of nitrous oxide in New Zealand depends on its intended purpose. It is legal to sell Nitrous oxide for food preparation purposes (i.e., cream canisters). However, as Nitrous oxide is also a medicine under the Medicines Act, so possessing, selling, supplying, or importing it as a medicine is illegal. If you are found to break the law in this case, you may be liable for a large fine, or time in prison. Nitrous oxide is not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act.
To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, including nitrous oxide, see Drugs and the law.