According to reports in The Sun, Liverpool footballer Raheem Sterling was recently caught on film ‘doing balloons’ – slang for inhaling the medical gas, nitrous oxide – which has led to revelations concerning just how widespread recreational use of this ‘laughing gas’ has become. As its popularity soars in the UK, we look at how abusing nitrous oxide can cause hair loss.
What is nitrous oxide?
Whilst not a controlled drug, it is intended for medical use and is generally mixed with oxygen and used as an anaesthetic. The gas is often administered via a face mask to dental patients or people about to undergo surgery, as it has a numbing, depressant effect on brain and body functions.
Nitrous oxide is also an approved food additive. Shown on labels as E942, it acts as a propellant for canned whipped cream.
Effects of laughing gas
Recreational use of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘Hippy Crack’, involves attaching small, bullet-like metal canisters of the gas to a dispenser. A balloon is fitted to the dispenser’s nozzle so laughing gas can be released into it; users then remove the balloon and inhale the gas.
This produces a short ‘high’, described by the government’s drugs advisory website ‘Talk to Frank’ as producing ‘feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness’ as well as ‘dizziness, difficulty in thinking straight and fits of giggles/laughter’. Some people may also experience sound distortion or hallucinations.
Known side effects include impaired judgement, a lack of oxygen which can cause headaches, unconsciousness and even death. Talk to Frank further advises that ‘heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia. The severe B12 deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage in some cases, which causes tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes and other extremities… Regular use may also depress formation of white blood cells’.
The Home Office report states, ‘Inhaling nitrous oxide can be dangerous, and can lead to loss of blood pressure, fainting and even heart attack. Prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide may also result in bone marrow suppression and poisoning of the central nervous system’.
Hair loss from nitrous oxide abuse
One of the less reported side effects of heavy nitrous oxide abuse is hair loss. Shedding can occur in both men and women, leading to thinning hair all over the scalp, caused by a temporary hair loss condition known as Telogen Effluvium.
There are two main reasons for this, the first of which is a restricted oxygen intake; this means the nutrients needed for healthy hair growth are not transported to the scalp as efficiently. If the hair follicles are not properly nourished in this way, they can weaken, leading to thinning hair and possible hair loss.
Secondly, a B12 deficiency caused by abusing this gas can also lead to shedding as this vitamin aids the creation of red blood cells which move oxygen around the body. Should this blood cell production be upset in any way, the knock-on effect of oxygen not being able to carry the necessary elements for hair growth to the scalp may cause hair fall.
Treating drug-related hair loss
“Heavy use can cause changes in the body that can or may lead to hair loss“, says Belgravia trichologist, Leonora Doclis.
“These changes can lead to the hair loss condition Telogen Effluvium which causes hair production to shut down temporarily and hair to fall out, giving the appearance of thinning hair. Assuming their drug habit is addressed, the hair should regrow on its own within three to six months, although treatment for Telogen Effluvium can help to speed up this growth rate”.
As Leonora advises, hair loss caused by drug abuse will generally clear up on its own, assuming the substance abuse is stopped straight away. However, if drug use continues, so will the hair loss condition. It may also progress to the more persistent condition, Chronic Telogen Effluvium, also known as Diffuse Hair Loss, or – should the hair growth cycle become severely disrupted – repeated recreational drug use can spark genetic shedding, better known as Male Pattern Baldness or Female Pattern Hair Loss.
Whilst there are hair loss treatments available to address all of these conditions, it is important that the issue of drug abuse is dealt with first.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.