Junk Explained: Nang Use Is On The Rise, But What’s Behind The Spike?

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A cracked cream charger. The squeak of a balloon. Inhale, exhale. These noises have soundtracked Aussie house parties and underground events for the better part of a decade.

Silver shiny nang canisters and colourful balloons are a notorious fixture of the Australian party scene, and a recent study has found that the use of nitrous oxide colloquially known as nangs has jumped significantly over the past few years.

What We Know About Nang Use In Australia

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has revealed that from 2003 to 2015, roughly one quarter of people interviewed in their yearly drug-use survey used nangs recreationally in the past six months. This proportion then doubled to 50 percent in 2018 and has remained at a fairly consistent rate since.

Why Are More People Doing Nangs?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why nangs are en vogue, but the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre believe increased use could be linked to perceptions of safety, as well as just how easy and cheap nangs are to access compared to other illicit drugs. (Nitrous oxide is used regularly by health professionals as a ‘laughing gas’ to provide pain relief and sedation, but you can also find the drug for sale in supermarkets and online as a food additive it’s typically used to aerate whipped cream.) But just how safe are nangs, and should you really be using them?

Nangs discarded in an Australian street

(Discarded nangs in an Aussie street. Image credit: Journal of General Practice)

Are Nangs Safe?

They’re not, sorry. The main difference between recreational and medical use of nitrous oxide is that, in medical contexts, the drug is mixed with oxygen by health professionals, while at parties, individuals are inhaling the gas on its own and don’t breathe in any oxygen. By doing this, users run the risk of asphyxia, and could even enter into a delirious state, causing danger to themselves and others.

Nitrous oxide can also interfere with the absorption of Vitamin B12, and in some rare cases this can lead to neurological damage. Vitamin B12 infusions may undo the health impacts for these acute cases, but in rare instances, the damage is irreversible. 

Neurological symptoms generally hit those who are heavy users and inhale every day for months on end. For light to moderate users, there’s still lots more research that needs to happen to understand what the long-term impacts of using nangs actually are. 

And something else to keep in mind: research from DanceWize NSW also shows that nitrous oxide gas can contain a range of impurities, including residual industrial grease left over from manufacturing, or tiny particles of steel that can get into the balloon from the pierced metal. For those who are looking to use nangs, DanceWize recommends a filtering system to ensure these small pieces of metal or grease aren’t inhaled. 

The cloth from a filtered nang containing grease and tiny bits of metal which could have otherwise been breathed in (A cloth used as a filter from a nang canister. Image credit: DanceWize)

Nang Legislation In Australia 

On October 1, 2022, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reclassified nitrous oxide as a Schedule 6 poison. This means product labels now have to contain warnings and safety directions on boxes being sold. In WA and SA, governments have now introduced restrictions on purchasing nitrous oxide including age limits and the amounts you can buy at once. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms like persistent tingling, dizziness or numbness during or after using nangs, it’s time to stop and seek help.

If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 14 12.