The “proto” in vogue among young people “I had to open my mouth to make her throw up because she was choking”
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is popular with students and young adults for its brief psychoactive effects. But its use can have medical and psychological consequences.
Melina, 21, discovered the “proto” at an electronic party; Héloïse, at 18, on a medical evening. the nitrous oxide – or laughing gas – is now consumed in a festive and social environment by many young French people who often underestimate the risks.
“We see more and more in consultation”
“I still feel like I’m getting carried away,” Melina (name changed), a pharmacy student who discovered the product a year ago, told AFP. She claims she never consumes more than ten cartridges in one night and space out her shots, but she admits she had to save a friend one day, “completely rebelled”, when both had just inhaled “proto”. “I had to force her mouth open to throw up because she was nearly choking,” she says.
Used as an analgesic in medicine, but also in kitchen siphons, this gas it is prized for its brief psychoactive effects – on the order of three to four minutes – when inhaled, most often through balloons inflated with capsules or demijohns. “We see more and more of them in consultation”, explains to AFP Hélène Donadieu Rigole, head of the drug addiction department of the hospital in Montpellier (South).
According to the EnCLASS survey by the French Observatory for Drugs and Addiction Trends (OFDT), which in 2021, 5.5% of third-class pupils (around 14 years old) say they have already consumed “proto”, males twice as many as females, show much higher figures for alcohol, tobacco or cannabis. “Among older students, it is common to find ‘proto’ in the evening. There is very often recreational use and, unfortunately, problematic use in some people with medical and psychological consequences “, adds the addict.
The risks involved can be asphyxiation, loss of consciousness, burns but also, in the case of repeated use and / or at high doses, serious neurological, haematological, psychiatric and cardiac disorders, warns the Interministerial Mission for the Fight against drugs and addictive behaviors. A law of May 2021 prohibits the sale of nitrous oxide to minors and its marketing in alcoholic and tobacco outlets. But the “proto” can be purchased in large quantities and at low cost on resale sites and Snapchat accounts – with nicknames followed by a red balloon emoticon – which offer home delivery, even at night.
The influence of friends and networks
On social networks, the balloons are shown in the Instagram “stories” of friends, or in the mouth of influencers, footballers or rappers. However, “peers play a central role in the emergence and maintenance of [la] curiosity “to experiment with the product, because” they positively describe the effects of the gas to the novice and insist on its presumably harmless nature in case of apprehension “, notes the OFDT, in a recent report.
“When I saw my best friend take it, she who does not drink and is not the type to do nonsense, I said to myself: ‘if you can try it, it won’t even matter to me'”, confides Héloïse (name changed), just of age when she started to regularly take “proto” with other medical students. “I quit because I thought it was a little too much social consumption,” says the student. But advising on the actions to be taken to minimize the risks (sitting down, not associating substances…), “peers also play a regulatory and surveillance role”, tempered Clément Gérome of the OFDT.
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