Under 18s

If you use legal drugs, or you’re worried about someone who does, then we’re here to help. There’s information about solvent abuse, nitrous oxide and legal highs here, plus advice on harm reduction. Or, if you’ve got a question or want some confidential help or advice, please just get in touch.

You can telephone our helpline on: 01785 810762, Monday-Friday 9.30am – 5pm (excluding bank holidays)

You can send us a text or WhatsApp on 07496 959930.

Live chat with us by clicking the box at the bottom of the screen.

You can email a question to us at c4r@re-solv.org

Gases, aerosols, petrol, glues, solvents, poppers, laughing gas…

If you misuse any of the above products, or if someone you know misuses them, then we’re glad you’re here. This form of substance misuse is known as ‘solvent abuse’ or ‘volatile substance abuse’ or just ‘VSA’ for short. It’s not physically addictive, so you can stop whenever you choose to – you just need to break the habit.

Is it dangerous? Yes – it kills about 50 people a year in the UK, some on their first time of use, some after having used for many years. This is because inhaling these chemicals causes the heart to beat irregularly which can lead to ‘sudden sniffing death syndrome’ – a fatal heart attack.

Harm reduction: It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve used solvents; you run the same risk of death as a first time user. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ way to do it that will take away the risk of death from heart failure but if you choose to continue using, please:

  • Don’t do it alone (someone with you can call an ambulance).
  • Avoid spraying directly into the mouth.
  • Never cover your face with a mask or plastic bag (this will lower the risk of suffocation).
  • Don’t smoke or light cigarettes – these substances are highly flammable.
  • Don’t mix with alcohol, any other drugs or prescribed medicines.

Nitrous, gas, whippits, balloons, laughing gas, NOS…

Nitrous oxide is a gas used medically as an anaesthetic. It’s also used in catering as the propellant in whipped cream chargers. Some people use it as a recreational drug, usually inhaled from a balloon, to get high. It acts as a ‘depressant’ (not unlike alcohol), in that it slows down your body’s system and leads to feelings of relaxation or happiness – hence ‘laughing gas’.

Is it legal? It’s not a crime to possess nitrous oxide for personal use. But 2016 legislation makes it illegal to import, produce, sell or supply psychoactive substances and this includes nitrous oxide for recreational purposes.

Is it dangerous? Deaths from nitrous oxide tend to occur, not from inhaling a single balloon, but from heavy use where the body becomes starved of oxygen leading to suffocation or unconsciousness. Using nitrous may also be riskier for people who have heart conditions.

Nitrous oxide also inactivates Vitamin B12, a lack of which can cause anaemia and, in cases of prolonged use, ‘peripheral neuropathy’ or nerve damage.

Harm reduction: There is always a risk associated with taking drugs of any kind. This can be due to the drug itself, to the increased risk of accident, or to behaving in ways you wouldn’t otherwise choose (e.g. unsafe sex). Please:-

  • Be as informed as possible, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions.
  • Be careful where you get your nitrous from. Make sure you are not being supplied a more dangerous gas like butane.
  • Don’t inhale directly from the charger.
  • Don’t use a mask or put a plastic bag over your head.
  • Don’t overdo it. If you plan to use more than one balloon, let your body recover in between.
  • Particularly if you’re vegetarian or anaemic, eat to replenish your levels of B12 – eggs, cheese, marmite etc. are good.
  • Don’t take drugs on your own. Stay with a group of friends and agree that one of you will stay sober in order to keep an eye out for the others.
  • Keep to one drug – don’t mix different drugs or drink alcohol. The results can be anything from unpredictable to actively dangerous.
  • Plan your evening, stay in a safe environment – and know how you’re getting home.

NPS, bath salts, black mamba, monkey dust, plant food, research chemicals, spice…

Because recreational drugs in the UK tend to be illegal, ‘legal highs’ or ‘new psychoactive substances’ (‘NPS’) were created to bypass the law. They are manufactured synthetically to mimic the effects of existing illegal drugs and can be found as pills, powders, liquids and smokeable substances.

Are they legal to use? This is tricky. Some are legal to possess for personal use but all are illegal to import, produce, sell or supply. Some of the best known NPS including benzo fury, m-cat, MPA, MXE and synthetic cannabinoids like black mamba are now Class B drugs which means possession can carry a 5 year prison sentence. Other NPS, despite being sold as ‘legal highs’ often contain illegal substances.

Are they dangerous? They can be, yes. There are over 60 deaths a year associated with NPS and ambulance services have reported a dramatic rise in 999 calls for heart attacks, cardiac arrests, strokes, seizures and unconsciousness following legal high use. Because they are new, no one really knows their short or long-term effects, or the risks involved in taking them. Those risks may be more serious if you have a pre-existing physical or mental health condition.

Harm reduction: There is always a risk associated with taking drugs of any kind. Even medicinal drugs prescribed by your doctor have side-effects. The difference is that those drugs have been rigorously tested – no one knows for sure what’s contained in NPS. There is no ‘safe’ way to take them but, if you do, please:

  • Be informed. Find out as much information as possible about the drug before you take it, particularly if you have a pre-existing physical or mental health condition.
  • Be careful where you get it from.
  • Don’t take drugs on your own. Stay with a group of friends and agree that one of you will stay sober in order to keep an eye out for the others.
  • Keep to one drug – don’t mix different drugs or drink alcohol. The results can be anything from unpredictable to actively dangerous.
  • Start with a small dose. Different batches of NPS, even if they have the same brand name, can contain different substances. Start with a small dose and wait – for as long as it takes to have an effect. NPS can be stronger but slower-acting and there is a real danger you could overdose.
  • Keep the packet. That way, if anything does go wrong, the emergency services have some idea about what you might have taken.

More help

Talk to Frank


The national drugs helpline with info on every type of drug and free, confidential phone, text and live chat help.



There is free one-to-one online counselling for young people in some areas of the country. Visit Kooth and find out if it’s available in your area.



Support and online counselling for young people aged 11-18 in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.



A private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of 19.

The Mix


A free confidential helpline and counselling service for anyone under 25 who needs help, but doesn’t know where to turn.

Young Minds


Information about mental health and emotional wellbeing plus a list of organisations that listen and/or provide online support.

HopeLine UK


A confidential support and advice service for anyone under the age of 35 who may be having thoughts of suicide.

Get in touch

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