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Balloon gas

31.05.2023 news EXPLAINER: Not What You Think. How Young People Get ‘High’ From Balloon Gas

Published 31st May, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

Recently, a video of young people inhaling gas from inflated balloons went viral on social media. While many wonder what could get people high in balloons, others think it’s simply the chemicals they are made of. It’s not what you think.

Dr Olumuyiwa Ajayeoba, a senior registrar in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Unit, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex (OAUTHC), told FIJ what is being inhaled: nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

While citing peer pressure and youthful exuberance as some of the rationale behind the spike in substance abuse, the doctor told FIJ that he was shocked to discover that nitrous oxide, which is even a scarce commodity for medical professionals, is within the access of ‘ordinary’ Nigerians.

The substance is released from canisters into balloons as shown in one of the videos circulating on Twitter, then inhaled.

FIJ learned that nitrous oxide is an anaesthetic gas used to ease pain in patients during surgical procedures, and also used for anaesthesia in pregnant women during delivery.

Dr Ajeyeoba said that young people are misusing this particular gas because it provides them with a euphoric feeling and helps them temporarily detach from their personal issues.

He, however, said those who use drugs as an escape route from pain and challenges of life often end up incurring more problems for themselves.

“It’s so pathetic that the youths can easily get this gas that we cannot get to buy commercially. It’s so sad that it is not easily available to be used for the right thing.

“They often start inhaling these drugs innocently when they see friends do it, then they get addicted to it,” the doctor said.

The prevalence of substance and drug abuse in Nigeria is no secret, and this raises significant concerns among the populace. A pressing question that troubles many is the reason behind this issue.

In the past few days, different videos of young Nigerians doing drugs have been circulating on social media. On May 29, a Twitter user compiled a thread of videos to raise awareness on the dehumanising effects of substance and drug abuse.

As seen in the videos, most of the affected drug users are young and totally oblivious to their environments. While some exhibit erratic behaviours, others are seen in awkward postures.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINER: Are Mental Illnesses Spiritual?

One of the videos, showing different people exhibiting symptoms of intoxication

DRUG ABUSE SKYROCKETED DURING COVID-19

Another substance commonly abused is colorado (colos). A source, who does not wish to be named, told FIJ that 99 percent of the mentally ill patients at the Neuropsychiatric Hospital Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, are grappling with drug and substance-related conditions.

Noting that these patients are addicted to substances like colorado, the source said the Covid-19 pandemic paved way for the importation of these drugs.

If the government fails to deploy measures to flush out the drugs from the society, the source said, many Nigerian youths will end up as mentally ill patients in the next five years.

He noted that these drugs are ordinarily not meant for commercial use, because they are used as anaesthetics to sedate patients during surgical procedures.

“Colorado is a mixture of several chemicals. In the USA, some drugs like Rohypnol (or Roofie) and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are called spike. Spike and cannabis are mixed together to form colos,” he said.

“These drugs were not common until during the Covid-19 season when they were heavily imported into the country. Many of the powerbike riders you see on the road smuggle these substances into the country.

“It was immediately after covid-19 that we started having complications from colorado, SK, heroin, monkeytail, and many of them come with psychotic features.

“For a surgery, you only need a small amount of rohypnol or ghb for anesthesia but in colos, they use high quantity and mix it with cannabis. This interferes with the neurotransmitters and often leads to mental illness.”

Another video

COMPLICATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE

He said many of the youths whose videos are trending on social media are exhibiting symptoms of intoxication. He added that this is as a result of addiction.

“It’s like taking an overwhelming overdose of Nescafe. They use drugs because they want to feel excited and be free from pain. Most of the videos you see online show signs of intoxication, because they (the victims) have taken too much.

“Intoxication is one of the dangerous aspects of drug abuse because when the drug is too much in their system, it can affect their respiration and cardiovascular systems, and many complications can set in later on.

“If you stab them with a knife at that point, they will not feel anything. But these psychotropic drugs are addictive. And what they need at that point is rehabilitation. If they have repressive psychotic features in their body, a frequent use of drugs can push them out, thus leading to mental illness.

“Most of the hospitals are ill-equipped, and managing a mentally ill patient is expensive. In a private hospital, one can spend up to N500,000 in a month, but if in a government hospital, it could be around N200,000 monthly.”

According to the source, psychotic patients can become aggressive and harm themselves, possibly leading to self-inflicted injuries or death during episodes of anger or fights.

He also said they may experience delusions and hallucinations. For instance, in cases where bipolar disorder is present as a recessive psychotic trait influenced by drug use, individuals may be prone to suicide during depressive episodes.

Another video of a young guy intoxicated on drug
Youths inhaling nitrous oxide (balloon)

THE NEXUS BETWEEN SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND CRIME

Dr Ajayeoba noted that substance abuse often culminates in a more serious issue as youths resort to criminal activities to get money to buy more drugs once addiction sets in.

“What they don’t know is that nitrous oxide damages the central nervous system and can degenerate into numbness. Their muscles become weak. It can also cause damage to the spinal cord. They won’t be able to walk again as it can cause a permanent paralysis. It can also result in hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the body system.

“The worse of them all is that when you are addicted to it, you become dependent for life even for normal functioning.”

READ ALSO: UNDERCOVER: Inside Lagos Drug Dens Where the Police is ‘Your Friend’

BEFORE IT GETS OUT OF CONTROL…

The doctor noted with sadness that unless all hands are on deck to address the issue, drug abuse will escalate drastically and lead to social unrest in the next few years.

“In the next five years, if this habit isn’t curbed, the abuse is going to be terrible. Everyone will not be able to sleep at night. It is as simple as that. And the fact that you have trained your child well does not mean he will not be affected,” he said.

“Children will go to school and relate with those that indulge in it. They will even see it on the internet. The best thing is for the government and other stakeholders to tackle it now because even the rich, the poor, the young, the old, will have nowhere to run to when it escalates.”

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Published 31st May, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

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