Discarded nitrous oxide canisters have been found near a Worcester primary school by a county MEP, which he fears is clear evidence that teenagers are ignoring the dangers of inhaling the gas - commonly known as laughing gas.
West Midlands Independent Euro MP James Carver, who lives in the city, was walking his dog when he found three canisters along an alleyway.
Mr Carver, who is calling for a public information campaign and education in schools about the dangers of inhaling laughing gas, said it was “disappointing” that young people were not heeding the warnings or understanding the risks.
He added: “Inhaling gas for a laugh is never an ok thing to do and especially if mixed with drink and drugs it can be even more dangerous.
“It has the ability to, in effect, freeze your lungs and replace your oxygen with nitrous oxide. The result could be like drowning – imagine how petrifying that would be.”
An estimated half a million young people were inhaling nitrous oxide at nightspots, festivals and parties in 2014 and despite its sale for human consumption being outlawed in 2016, it remains easily available online and is still being inhaled by young people.
The gas is used for pain relief during dentistry and childbirth, in engines to increase their power output and for prolonging the shelf life of products such as whipped cream.
But inhaled, the gas produces effects ranging from relaxation to euphoria, and heavy or long-term use can cause anaemia, nerve damage and the lungs to collapse. Inhalation direct from a canister can cause frostbite of the larynx. Industrial-grade nitrous oxide may also contain many harmful impurities.
The risk is greater if nitrous oxide is consumed in an enclosed space or if a substantial amount is rapidly used – it will kill if inhaled for 10 minutes.
Around 17 deaths in recent years across the UK have been related to the inhalation of laughing gas, with most deaths being asphyxiations involving plastic bags which are sometimes used to inhale it.