Nitrous oxide possession made illegal – what are the PSHE implications?
Possession of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is illegal from today 8 November 2023 for those who intend to use it to ‘get high’.
It was already illegal to produce, supply, import or export nitrous oxide for psychoactive purposes. This change updates the law so that possession of nitrous oxide is also illegal, unless for a legitimate reason, making it a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
In a statement, The Home Office outlined its rationale for taking this step, including health risks associated with heavy, regular use, and association with anti-social behaviour.
Young people are the biggest users of nitrous oxide, so learning about the substance — including its new legal status — should be factored into the Health Education part of your planned PSHE education programme at an appropriate point. This includes that those caught in possession could now receive a community punishment, fine or a caution on their record.
We are currently working to update the relevant information in our drug and alcohol education lesson pack, but want to remind schools that teaching about legal status should always be incorporated into a broader approach to preventative, PSHE education. This should foster the knowledge, understanding, skills, strategies and attributes needed to stay healthy and safe, including helping young people to manage situations where they might feel pressure to use drugs, or how and where to seek help if they need it.
This approach will support you to consider drug and alcohol education alongside related topics that can contribute to protective factors, such as: healthy lifestyles and health-related decisions; managing risks and personal safety; mental health and emotional wellbeing; and forming and maintaining positive relationships.
It’s also important to address common misconceptions and, as with any harmful practice, reinforce positive social norms versus suggesting ‘everyone is doing it’ or using shock tactics which can prove counterproductive. And, while it’s important to explain things like legal status or risks of a specific substance, the approach to drug education should in the main be applicable to all substances, not just those that are causing current concern.
Read more about the how and why of drug and alcohol education in our teacher guidance, evidence review, lesson plans and knowledge organisers or attend our ‘Effective Drug and Alcohol Education (secondary)’ online Twilight CPD.