From the streets of England to Thailand, “happy balloons” are a party drug of choice for young people, and now an increasing number of Koreans are inhaling these balloons out in the open for people to see.
Nitrous oxide- more commonly known as laughing gas- in the balloons gives the user an intense feeling of euphoria, lasting up to a minute and is described as similar to taking a “snort” of cocaine.
The reason that the young generations are looking for a happy balloon is that they want to feel the “temporary blur.”
“I was so depressed in the evaluation of paperwork and interviews that I had a happy balloon, and I suddenly felt like drinking 20 glasses of alcohol,” said Kim Hyun-woo, a partygoer in her mid-20s under a pseudonym, who used a Happy Balloon at the K-pop world festival, describing her experience. “The feeling that I wanted to flee from reality stopped momentarily, and I saw white.”
Another agreed. “I take this drug because I want to be in a state of hallucination. I asked my friend what I did when I was ‘high,’ and she told me I slept for three minutes smiling,” said Kim Sang-gyung, a college graduate in his mid-20s. “I want to do it again to forget about my worries of finding a job.”
At popular drinking areas around Seoul's Hongik University, Gangnam, and Itaewon, it is now common to find people enjoying their drinks with these balloons, which cost about 5,000 won ($4.5) each.
|Balloons filled with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) are now being sold at 5000 won ($4.5) each around popular drinking areas in Seoul.|
The colorless, sweet-tasting gas has been medically used by dentists, obstetricians and sports doctors as an important anesthetic, tranquilizer, and painkiller since the early 20th century.
Because nitrous oxide is readily available to the public and does not violate any Korean laws for possessing or selling, the police turn a blind eye.
But the widespread use of the gas has raised health concerns. Short-term side effects can include headaches, dizziness, and unconsciousness, while long-term, excessive use is associated with anemia, incontinence, depleted bone marrow and numbness in fingers and toes.
Deaths are rare, but at least 17 people in England died after breathing in the laughing gas between 2006 and 2012, according to coroners' reports in Britain. The British government has restricted the use of nitrous oxide beyond its authorized use, such as medical food additives, since May 2016.
The voices calling for the rapid response by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety are now growing.
"Since 2011, we have been designating newly discovered hallucinogenic substances as temporary drugs. However, nitrous oxide is not addictive and has not been identified as a drug,” an official said. “If they abuse this gas, we will control it with the Anti-Narcotics Control Act."
An official from the Ministry of Environment agreed. "We will discuss measures concerning nitrous oxide sooner or later," he said.
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