'Nangs': The Cheap, Accessible And Legal Drug Concerning Health Professionals

They're the cheap, quick and easy-to-buy bulbs of gas you use to pump whipped cream -- and health experts are issuing another warning to the teens misusing them.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, a NSW teenager fell to his death from a Gold Coast balcony while celebrating during schoolies.

Identified as Hamish Bidgood, it was reported the teenager may have been ingesting nitrous oxide before he died.

Nitrous oxide is the gas commonly used for sedation and pain relief by medical professionals -- to most of us, the laughing gas used by dentists-- which is also found in canisters used to pressurise whipped cream containers.

The canisters are known in Australia most commonly as "nangs" and can be purchased from just about any corner store.

"It’s an inhalant drug," Tony Hucker, Clinical Director with the Queensland Ambulance Service told 10 daily.

"Those little canisters contain about two to three litres of gas, so it’s enough to inhale quite a bit and what it does do is give you a really quick high, a sense of amazing euphoria."

Users will usually discharge the gas cartridge into another object -- most commonly a balloon -- before inhaling it.

Nitrous oxide canisters. Image: Getty
The Concern In The Short And Long Term

In the long-term, using nangs can lead to brain and nerve damage, mental health issues, can leave a permanent ringing in the ears and, in rare and extreme cases, lead to death.

But as Hucker explained, the concern around their use extends to the practice of combining them with other substances.

"Nitrous oxide on its own, it might be short-lived, you do it once and it probably won’t be a big deal, but if you’ve had a whole lot of alcohol and you’re taking other party drugs, the combination effect can be quite dangerous," he said.

"It just increases the risk and what can happen can just be through misadventure by being dis-inhibited by the amount of drugs you’ve done. and do silly things or it could be the dangerous medical effects of all the drugs could actually kill you."

“That’s probably the most common thing we see -- it’s rare people will take only one drug.”

The gas is most commonly inhaled from a balloon. Image: Getty

Hucker also warns as people become more creative with how to inhale larger amounts of the gas, they're putting themselves at high risk given the fact that when you're breathing in nitrous oxide, you aren't breathing in oxygen.

"People will do crazy things like fill up another receptacle and think 'I'll just breathe on this for an hour or so'. Now that will kill you.”

Is There A Case For Policy Change?

Nangs are nothing new, says policy manager at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation Geoff Munro, but there isn't extensive data on their use and prevalence.

"The use of them like other drugs is faddish, so it comes and goes over time," he told 10 News First.

"It may be that we’re seeing a slight increase, that’s the picture we’re getting on an anecdotal basis, but it’s hard to know just how prevalent the use is.”

Disposed nitrous oxide canisters at Glastonbury festival. Image: AAP

According to the Australian Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2016 Survey, around one third of people who regularly use ecstacy and related drugs reported recent nitrous oxide use. This was a 10 percent increase on 2015 results.

As a cheap, easy and completely legal product, nangs are easy to get your hands on in not only corner stores but online and even through a 24/7 delivery service.

"We would think that if they continue to cause harm and the harms become evident then there is a case for asking policy makers to review the regulatory measures taken to ensure they don’t continue to cause harm," Munro said.