Bottles of laughing gas which were confiscated recently by the Local Police in Malaga. / SUR

Laughing gas, a growing headache for the authorities on the Costa

Local Police officers in Malaga city have been issued with instructions so they know how to act if they see people using the substance

ÁLVARO FRÍAS / JUAN CANO MALAGA.

Nitrous oxide, which is better known as laughing gas on the nightlife scene, is proving a real headache for the authorities. The police have linked abusive consumption of this substance with the deaths of two young people this summer and serious injuries suffered by another two in Marbella. However, its use has increased not only there but all over the Costa del Sol and more recently Malaga city.

The so-called laughing gas is nothing new; it started to become fashionable in Ibiza more than a decade ago and the habit was then picked up on the Costa del Sol, where it was sold openly in bars and discos. In fact, waiters and PR staff even carried a device to inflate the balloons in which the gas is supplied.

Despite its use becoming increasingly widespread, a considerable number of police operations were carried out and managed to put an end to the practice. One of the best-known was 'Operación Neurona', which involved half a dozen raids, numerous premises in Marbella being inspected, especially in and around Puerto Banús, and several waiters and managers being arrested in 2014.

The consumption of laughing gas was closely monitored at that time, but the pandemic is making it difficult to control now because people are using it at private parties or outdoor drinking parties (known here as 'botellones') instead of in bars and nightclubs as they did before.

In fact, in some parks and public squares, where empty bottles and glasses used to be left after these gatherings, it is now quite common to find dozens of single-dose capsules of this compound.

The highest incidence since the pandemic has been in Marbella, where numerous illegal shipments of the substance have been found. The most recent discovery was in a van loaded with 250 bottles which was intercepted when it was about to deliver to a private party.

The police are determined to put an end to a practice which carries a grave risk to health, as it can cause serious pathologies and even death. Laughing gas generates a lack of oxygen to the brain and can cause paranoia and hallucinations. Also, when it is mixed with alcohol or cocaine, its effects are accentuated. The police believe that its consumption lies behind the greater aggression they see in nighttime street brawls.

One of the greatest challenges in controlling this substance is also that it is not prohibited and is not considered to be a drug. One could say the situation is similar to that of glue: if the police spot someone selling it as a hallucinogen, they can take action against them, but otherwise there is little they can do.

As the authorities are aware that laughing gas is now being used in Malaga city, the head of the Local Police force, Superintendent José Fernando Cerezo, has issued an internal circular to instruct officers on the control of this substance. So far in the city, the police have detected its use at 'botellones'.