Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Legislating by press release

The Herald this morning has more details on Jim Anderton's banning of nitrous oxide - and it looks like he's legislating by press release. Or rather, by legal opinion. Because that is what this ban is: a legal opinion from the Ministry of Health that nitrous oxide can only be dispensed with a prescription.

How strong is this? Well, nitrous oxide is listed as a prescription medicine in Schedule One of the Medicines Act 1981. But so is

Nicotine; for nasal use except when sold from a smoking cessation clinic run under the auspices of a registered medical practitioner; in medicines other than for smoking cessation

and I don't see them threatening to prosecute dairies for selling cigarettes. Why not? Because they're not being sold as medicine for a "therapeutic purpose". It's not considered prescription medicine if used for another purpose.

Unfortunately for nos users, "inducing anaesthesia" is a therapeutic purpose, which would seem to make things fairly open and shut. So yes, they can prosecute, and relying on selling food or automotive grade nitrous isn't a defence, as it is the purpose for which it is supplied, rather than its quality, which makes it illegal.

Of course, this is only a legal opinion, and there would need to be a test case on whether a "cheap headrush" is anaesthesia, but who wants to take that risk?

And on the flip side, this is yet another example of our inconsistency and hypocrisy over some drugs but not others. The vast majority of alcohol in this country is sold for exactly the same purpose as nitrous - "inducing anaesthesia" - with far worse long-term health effects and equivalent potential for dumbarse behaviour under the influence. And while nitrous has been implicated in combination with other drugs in two deaths over the past few years, alcohol verifiably kills hundreds (whether directly in accidents or indirectly through long-term side effects) every year. By any measure, it is the greater danger - but rather than banning it, we have restricted its use to adults, and changed the culture so that driving under the influence is no longer acceptable. We should adopt the same solution for nitrous.


The problem with the "alcohol kills hundreds" point is that it is so lethal precisely because it is legal and thus so available.

Nitrous oxide (and I speak from experience here, because I've had hours of the stuff, four times in labour) is excellent stuff for medical purposes. But industrial dairy bought gas isn't pure enough for personal useage. It's not just nitrous oxide, there's all the other fun wee poisons that come along with it.

At least with a few beers the drug content is safe and regulated. And yes, it does get misused, but then by legalising other drugs you're just ensuring they get treated as badly as booze and now you've got even more problems.

Posted by Muerk : 4/13/2005 12:36:00 PM

Dairy bought gas (ie food-grade capsules) most certainly *is* pure enough for personal usage (else it'd hardly be food grade).
Automotive-use stuff most definately *isn't* safe, as it's deliberately adulterated in the same way meths is to make it unsafe for consumption.
For me, I just don't enjoy the headrush (though my mates indulge with impunity).
As a management startegy, the BZT one gets my vote.. legalising it to put the squeeze on P supply, I'm hearing of people switching from E to BZT b/c it's far cheaper and standardised dosage. (Some) humans will always seek euphoria - provide it safely instead of trying to wowser it away.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/13/2005 01:30:00 PM

You could do a fairly strong argument for cigarettes being used for theraputic purposes. Consider the number of people who use them for stress management.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/13/2005 04:32:00 PM

I heard Jim on the radio this morning, his argument was that selling/buying it for inhaling was not legal, but selling/buying it for other reasons wasn't - kind of silly IMHO since one could end up with a retailer selling it 'only for whipped cream' but people buying it for other uses, under that justification one side of the transaction is legal and the other is not.

I'm in 2 minds about the legality of it, I had a friend die about 30 years back using it (using it really stupidly not from the gas itself) while I use it myself as a rocket fuel (honestly I do, buy it by the kilo in liquid form) so I don't want to see it banned. 'denatured' nitrous is what we (and the drag racers) use, it has nasty sulfur compounds added and actually costs more than medical grade because of the extra manufacturing step

Posted by Anonymous : 4/13/2005 05:51:00 PM

Just watched the news on one and I saw an anesthetist saying it was a medicine, addictive and addicts could develop brain and spinal damage.

Frankly thats a person I think can make a qualified statement, given how horribly hard and long it is to actually train as an anesthetist.

Chronic, serious use: Nitrous oxide is known to be an immunosuppressant (and I wonder how that impacts on the unsafe sexual behavior at parties), it affects folate metabolism and DNA synthesis and causes bone marrow depression (megaloblastic changes due to loss of B12). It's also teratogenic in rat embryos. Not to mention bowel distention, middle ear damage and ear drum rupture due to it entering into gas containing bodily spaces faster than nitrogen passes out.

Medical and industrial - ie propellant for food - NO2 are produced differently. Industrial grade NO2 is made through air separation. Medical NO2 is specifically synthesised out of industrial grade O2. But it looks like the biggest issue is that the canisters of NO2 you get over the counter isn't mixed with O2, whereas medical usage has precise O2 mixing in order to prevent asphyxiation.

Posted by Muerk : 4/13/2005 08:35:00 PM

And in excessive quantities or when deliberately abused, anything is harmful.

But consider that farmers can relatively freely buy dynamite and gardeners can buy incredibly toxic substances such as paraquat, yet there are relatively few accidents or calls for banning the products.

So the relative danger of the substance is clearly not the issue. Individuals will continue to get hurt when being foolish, and no amount of control-freak behaviour is going to reduce accidents to zero.

More likely the whole NOS issue is a cheap election-year headline-grabber by a minor politician.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/14/2005 09:03:00 AM

Ahh husky nut - eager for us to place more items on our list of banned substances eh?

But actually it is a balance between the need for a product the difficulty of banning it nd the damage it causes.

for example knives are dangerous but they provide a lot of benefit and would be next to imposible to ban so we wont ban them.

On the other hand depleted uranium or somthing mildly poisonous and unlikely to be used might be easy to ban and so we will.

By the way Dynamite is controlled rather mroe than NO is until recently I would have thought despite also being very useful.
For example I couldnt buy dynamite if I was a 15 yr old at the local dairy. If I could then people would probably start dying quite quickly.

Posted by Genius : 4/15/2005 06:44:00 AM

Muerk...the effects on the nervous system do happen to a few unfortunates...but have a look at how much nos you actually need to be taking for that to happen...its quite a substantial (and costly) amount...You'd have to be a serious addict...and if you're like that you'd probably be fucking up your body in some other way if nos wasn't available...quite frankly you've got larger issues if you're that much of an addict.

For the majority of "weekend users" its a very safe drug...certainly far safer than alcohol, party pills or other drugs I could name.

The main effect I'd be worried about is on folate levels in women...these have an effect on the brain and spinal cord development (or rather lack thereof) in babies so if you're pregnant or likely to be in the near future you should stay well clear of it.

The problem with the government's heavy handed approach (as with some other drugs) is that people who use it instantly see that the government's scaremongering is full of crap and completely at odds with their own experiences (as mine were when I was enjoying the odd joint). This makes them switch off to anti drug messages (including any good info contained in them).

I'd rather see the government focus on fixing our binge drinking culture (been there, done that) than trying the same old failed tactic of prohibition backed up with scare tactics.

Posted by Michael : 4/17/2005 08:49:00 PM