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, butane gas and nitrous oxide (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

In March 2023 The UK Government announced that nitrous oxide would be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act as a Class C substance. Possession of a Class C substance may be punishable by an unlimited fine and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. Supply of a Class C substance carries a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Criminal behaviour

Although it is not illegal inhale solvents and most gases (not including nitrous oxide), 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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