Nitrous Oxide Laws

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 What Is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a clear, colorless, and odorless gas. It is widely used by dentists and oral surgeons as anesthesia. The food industry also uses it as a propellant in items such as whipped cream cans.

When inhaled, nitrous oxide has a painkilling effect. Inhalation of small amounts also provides a brief euphoric effect. Because it is not illegal to possess and use it, and it has a euphoric effect, it has been used as a recreational drug.

Can Nitrous Oxide Be Dangerous?

There are dangers to inhaling nitrous oxide in certain ways. It is very dangerous to inhale nitrous oxide directly from the canisters in which it is distributed. Inhaling it in an enclosed space is also dangerous.

Usually, people use nitrous oxide by opening the canister, transferring the gas into another container, commonly a balloon, and then inhaling it from the balloon. It is especially dangerous to inhale nitrous oxide directly from the canister because the gas is under high pressure in the canister.

When the gas exits the canister, it is extremely cold. This temperature can damage a person’s throat and lungs, stop their breathing, or slow the heart to a dangerous degree. Use in this manner can be fatal.

In addition, using nitrous oxide directly from a large canister makes it harder to keep track of how much a person has used. Because of this, they are more likely to suffer the negative effects of using far too much.

If a person consumes too much nitrous oxide, they risk falling into unconsciousness and/or suffocating from a lack of oxygen. People have died from these negative effects. Dizziness, which can lead to falls, is yet another possible effect of ingesting an excess amount of nitrous oxide.

Heavy, regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency as well as a form of anemia. A person who is deficient in vitamin B12 may experience serious nerve damage with tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes. In addition, the nerves in their spinal column can suffer damage. This can be painful and may make walking difficult. It can even lead to paralysis, and the damage may be lasting.

Regular use of nitrous oxide can stop a person from forming white blood cells properly. It can be hard to judge the amount to use safely. If a person uses too much on one occasion, they risk fainting, having an accident, or worse.

Possession of nitrous oxide has been made a crime in the United Kingdom.

Is Nitrous Oxide Legal?

Because of the many legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, it is not considered a controlled substance under federal law, and it is not regulated at the federal level as such. The only federal regulation of nitrous oxide is done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA does not regulate the possession of nitrous oxide but does regulate the sale of nitrous oxide for human consumption.

Under federal law, possession of nitrous oxide is legal. However, the FDA regulates nitrous oxide under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. Prosecution is possible for selling or distributing nitrous oxide for the purpose of human consumption.

However, in order to win a conviction, prosecutors would have to prove the intent of the buyer or the seller to use the drug recreationally or distribute it for recreational use. For this reason, prosecutions are not common.

In Which States Is Nitrous Oxide Illegal?

Nitrous oxide is not illegal per se in any state. On the contrary, it is legal in all states when used for medical purposes and also under certain conditions for use off-road in automobiles.

In many states, the sale of nitrous oxide to minors is prohibited. Likewise, in many states, consumption of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes is illegal. Some states also make possession of nitrous oxide with the intent to inhale the chemical a crime.

Many states may also set an upper limit for the amount of nitrous oxide that may be sold without a special license. In most states, as at the level of the federal government, sale or distribution for the purpose of human consumption is illegal.

In California, for example, inhalation of nitrous oxide for the sole purpose of inducing euphoria or changing one’s mental processes is a criminal offense. In California, nitrous oxide is a controlled substance.

Again, it is illegal to possess, sell, distribute, or inhale it for the purposes described under the California Health and Safety Code (H&SC). If a person violates this law, they can be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months in county jail and/or payment of a fine of up to $1,000.

In some states, anyone can legally purchase the small nitrous oxide cartridges that are used to make whipped cream. And in other states, canned whipped cream canisters that use nitrous oxide can only be purchased by adults. Sales to minors are illegal.

In all U.S. states, however, distribution, possession, and inhalation are legal when done under the supervision and direction of licensed medical professionals such as a physician or dentist.

Reportedly, another popular non-medical use of nitrous oxide is using it in cars to boost performance. Drag racers have used it for better performance since the 1950s. This is done by attaching a mechanical system to the car that sends the gas into the intake manifold, mixing it with fuel and air in the engine.

However, most states prohibit the use of nitrous oxide to enhance the performance of a vehicle unless the vehicle is being used only for off-road events on privately owned land. In other words, its use in street cars may be illegal.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to list nitrous oxide laws by state when it comes to cars on the streets. This is because not every state has clear guidelines regarding the use of nitrous oxide as a power booster in street cars.

For example, the use of nitrous oxide boosting in street cars is unclear in Alabama, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.

It is illegal for use in automobiles in California. In Florida, the possession of nitrous oxide is legal, but the emission of nitrous oxide from vehicles is regulated.

In addition, even in states where there may not be specific laws regarding use of nitrous oxide in vehicles on the streets, there may be laws governing emissions. This is because the use of nitrous oxide in a vehicle affects tailpipe emissions.

Again, however, it is illegal in all states to possess NOS with the intent to ingest it for the sole purpose of getting high.

What Are the Dangers of Nitrous Oxide?

As noted above, there are quite a few risks and dangers to the recreational use of nitrous oxide. Inhaling it directly from the canister in which it is distributed may be the riskiest use as it comes out of the canister cold, and this can impair a person’s heart rate and ability to breathe. Another significant risk is to nerves in the spinal column. The damage can lead to paralysis.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With My Nitrous Oxide Issue?

If you have been charged under state or federal law with the illegal possession or distribution of nitrous oxide, you should contact a drug lawyer. can connect you to a lawyer who knows the laws on this substance in your state.

Your lawyer can help you understand how the law may apply to you and explain any defenses that may be available. Your lawyer can represent you in negotiations and at a trial if that should be necessary.


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