Solvent abuse, nitrous oxide and the law

The products associated with solvent abuse are legitimate products available in all our homes and high streets. This includes nitrous oxide.

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

The Act made it illegal to sell or supply ‘psychoactive substances’, offer to supply them or possess them with intent to supply.

The term ‘psychoactive substances’ includes solvents and butane gas (although not poppers). A retailer who sells a substance that they know will be used for intoxication can be prosecuted. The maximum sentence under the Psychoactive Substances Act is 7 years’ imprisonment.

Nitrous oxide and the Misuse of Drugs Act

As of 8th November 2023 nitrous oxide is controlled as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 if it is, or is likely to be, wrongfully inhaled. Those found in unlawful possession will face either an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment or a caution – which would appear on their criminal record. Repeat serious offenders may face a prison sentence of up to two years, an unlimited fine, or both. The penalty for supply or production is up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Please see further government information on the change to the law here.

Criminal behaviour

Although it is not illegal inhale solvents and most gases, solvent abuse can cause behaviours which lead to criminal prosecution. Typically these involve antisocial or violent behaviour, assault, theft and other criminal behaviour orders.

Young people, solvent abuse and the law

There is also specific legislation controlling the sale of some products to young people. This includes the following:

  • It is illegal to supply cigarette lighter refills containing butane to anyone under the age of 18 (Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations, 1999).
  • It is illegal to sell spray paint to anyone under the age of 16 (Antisocial Behaviour Act, 2003).
  • It is illegal to sell petrol to anyone under the age of 16.

If you believe a retailer is selling products to underage customers, please inform your local Trading Standards office. Find your local Trading Standards office (external link)

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