Pushing boundaries or adding a gimmick to the party? Young people’s experiences of nitrous oxide use in Denmark

Nitrous oxide (N2O) use for intoxication among young people has increased in many parts of the Western world, including Denmark. The literature, however, primarily focusses on harms related to N2O use, and not on other aspects, for example modes of administration or effects such as different forms of pleasure or fun. Therefore, despite this increase, we still know very little about how and why young people use nitrous oxide for intoxication, including their experiences of N2O intoxication. Based on 45 qualitative interviews with young Danes age 18-25 years, who all were former or present N2O users, we explore their experiences of N2O intoxication. We do this by analyzing in-depth descriptions of where, how and with whom they use N2O. When analyzing these descriptions in relation to different modes of administration, intensity of use, combination with other substances (e.g. alcohol, cannabis), and use in different settings, we argue that N2O intoxication is experienced differently by the young participants. Some of the participants also searched for particular intoxication experiences with N2O. We unfold the participants’ various descriptions of intoxication by differentiating between moderate and intensive use. Overall, our study shows that these differences in N2O use for intoxication are not equally risky or harmful. In general, young people’s own perspectives and experiences with (illegal) drug use is increasingly emphasized as important to include when developing preventive interventions. Our analysis of the young participants’ differing experiences with N2O for intoxication can inform future prevention initiatives in relation to harms of N2O intoxication.

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