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Whilst cream chargers have their legitimate uses, most people in the UK know them as a recreational drug. It’s not uncommon to come across these canisters in city streets or party strips, as they’ve been popular for many years.
However, it’s only recently that the government decided to take action against cream charger selling, usage and possession. In this blog, I’ll be outlining exactly what they are, what the law says about them, and how to protect yourself as a legitimate retailer.
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What are cream chargers?
Cream chargers are steel cylinders or cartridges filled with nitrous oxide. They also go by the names laughing gas or nos.
In the UK, some people use cream chargers as a recreational drug. The user inhales the gas, typically through a balloon, which in turn gives them a feeling of euphoria.
What are some legitimate uses?
Whilst cream chargers have become infamous for their illicit use, there are many legitimate uses for them too.
Firstly, in hospitals, mixing cream chargers with oxygen can act as an anaesthetic. Doctors and researchers specifically use these in pre-clinical and clinical research for therapeutic purposes (e.g. in severe antidepressants to treat alcohol withdrawal resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder.)
You can also use cream chargers in food additives – for example, propelling gas when making whipped cream. Nitrous oxide can also extract oils, fats and proteins from ingredients or can remove caffeine to make decaffeinated coffee.
Finally, car engines can use nitrous oxide to accelerate the combustion process, thus speeding up the car. This is common in car racing as it can act as a supercharging system for extra horsepower. Whilst this is currently still legal in the UK, it is dangerous.
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Are cream chargers illegal in the UK?
Supplying cream chargers for psychoactive effects, such as inhaling the gas, is illegal under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Despite this, the act currently does not include possession.
However, the Home Office is currently in the process of producing a ban on the sale or possession of cream chargers. This will exclude anyone who has a legitimate reason for needing them, such as for culinary or medical uses.
The government has decided to bring forward this legislation to control nitrous oxide under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in order to classify it as a Class C drug. This is in response to an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) report on the harms of nitrous oxide.
Class C drugs are typically the least harmful and addictive. However, it is still illegal to possess or supply them.
What health problems can cream chargers cause?
Inhaling the gas from cream chargers can lead to some damaging short-term and long-term side effects. They can cause:
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Throat spasms
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Nerve damage
Between 2010 to 2019, The Office for National Statistics reported 42 deaths involving cream chargers, or nitrous oxide, in England and Wales. However, the gas is typically not the direct cause of death.
One major cause of death is hypoxia. This lowers levels of oxygen in your body tissues and can cause death by weakening the brain or heart.
The most common early symptoms of neurological harm are tingling and numbness in the hands or feet (paraesthesia). Other early symptoms include skin crawling, and later, staggering uncoordinated walk, lower limb weakness, muscles stiffening or tightening.
What if I’m a retailer that sells cream chargers?
Retailers that sell cream chargers for legitimate uses should always consider the circumstances of their sales. For example, you should be wary of repeat customers or those who buy in large quantities.
If you believe a customer’s intentions are not legitimate, you should refuse to sell to them.
Any retailers that the police find to recklessly sell cream chargers could face six months in prison or an unlimited fine.
How can we help?
The law around cream chargers and other drugs in the UK is constantly changing. To ensure you know your legal standpoint, it’s best to consult a criminal law expert.
With our initial consultation, we can offer you:
- Unlimited time to go through the details of your case and ask any questions you may have
- An overview of your legal standpoint and your available options
- A precise time and fee estimate for your case
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