Psycho-active Substances (e.g. Nitrous Oxide) PSPO

We introduced a borough-wide PSPO which makes it an offence to use nitrous oxide (or other psychoactive substances) and engage in antisocial behaviour, which is a concern for residents across the borough.

Misuse of nitrous oxide is associated with increased antisocial behaviour including littering, noise nuisance and vandalism, all of which are detrimental to residents’ quality of life and feelings of safety. Use of nitrous oxide is also a health concern and has other associated harms.

The order also sets out that:

  • Persons within this area who breach the order shall surrender any psychoactive substances (e.g. nitrous oxide) in his/her possession to an authorised person.

The decision to introduce the PSPO follows a full consultation, where we invited views from anyone living, working or visiting Tower Hamlets, along with local partners and stakeholders. From the consultation, 98% of respondents were in favour of introducing a PSPO and felt there was an issue with nitrous oxide and antisocial behaviour in the borough.

Consequences of breaching the PSPO

The order will be enforced by officers from the Metropolitan Police and council officers.

Officers will engage with anyone in breach of the PSPO, explaining the order and encouraging them to stop engaging in antisocial behaviour. Enforcement will be a last resort, with officers able to issue a fixed penalty notice of £100 or prosecute individuals, which can carry a fine of up to £1,000 at court.

We will use intelligence, CCTV, and neighbourhood tasking to identify problem hotspots, where enforcement officers will be deployed.

Download the PSPO.

Common queries

What is Nitrous Oxide (also known as NOX, NOS or laughing gas)?

Nitrous oxide is used as pain relief during medical procedures such as dental work. It can also be legally bought for use in whipped cream dispensers.

It is classed as a Psychoactive Substance (also known as a ”legal high”) and nitrous oxide can cause dizziness and affect the user's judgement.

This can put people at risk of hurting themselves. Further research is taking place into its long-term effects, with some health conditions and deaths linked to its use.

What does the law say about it?

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is the main law that deals with substances such as NOX and there are a number of offences laid out within it.

NOX misuse causes a number of problems that affect the quality of life of our residents including:

  • supply
  • offer to supply to others
  • possession of a psychoactive substance with the intent to supply.

N.B. It should be noted that within the 2016 Act, it is not an offence to possess or use a psychoactive substance such as NOX.

What is a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO)?

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 gives Local Authorities the power to make PSPOs.

It can do so (after consultation with other statutory authorities and those likely to be affected by the PSPO), if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that behaviour within the defined area

  • has or is likely to have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality
  • is of a persistent or continuing nature and
  • is unreasonable.

The order identifies the public place and prohibits specified things being done in the restricted area and/or requires specified things to be done by persons carrying on specified activities in that area.

The order may not have effect for more than three years. Failure to comply with a public spaces protection order is an offence.

If there is a law that already deals with NOX, why is there a PSPO for it in Tower Hamlets?

Possession or use of NOX itself is not an offence.

However, we are aware of the negative impact that misuse of NOX causes residents and visitors. This includes the littering caused by dumping cannisters to the antisocial behaviour committed by those whilst using NOX.

Our consultation on introducing a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) on antisocial behaviour caused by nitrous oxide received the most responses the council has seen.

98 per cent of respondents were in favour of the PSPO which is now in full effect. This makes antisocial behaviour associated to nitrous oxide use an offence.

It also gives council enforcement officers and local police the power to fine or prosecute against those who are causing antisocial behaviour and are in possession of nitrous oxide.

In such cases, a person must also hand over any of the substances in their possession.

This is an effective approach to deal with the fact that possession and use itself is not an offence under any other statutory law because the PSPO directly addresses the consequences of the misuse of NOX.

Who can enforce both the PSPO and the other key elements of the  Psychoactive Substances Act 2016?

In all cases where there is sufficient evidence, council enforcement officers and police can enforce the PSPO.

Depending upon the particular cases, this takes the form of formal warnings or the issuing of Fixed Penalty Notices, with the penalty being £100.

Police and authorised council officers can deal with the issues of

  • supply
  • offering to supply and
  • possession with intent to supply under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

What can I do if I want to report the litter caused by the NOX cannisters being dumped?

You can report dumped canisters so we can clean them up and send them to be recycled. If they are on your estate, you should contact your landlord or caretaker.

If canisters are in streets or parks, away from estates, you can report them using the Love Your Neighbourhood app or online using the street cleaning form.

What can I do if I want to report antisocial behaviour associated with the misuse of NOX?

You can report antisocial behaviour hotspots in our borough to help us enforce our nitrous oxide PSPO.

If enforcement does happen or depending upon the circumstances, warnings are given, is there also any support available to those people who are engaged in misuse of NOX

Anyone who is concerned about a friend or relative or who needs support themselves, can contact Health Spot (for those aged 11-19 years old) on 020 3011 1333 or email

RESET Tower Hamlets offers drug and alcohol treatment to resident aged 18 or over and support to family and friends who are concerned about someone’s drug and/or alcohol use.

Call 020 3889 9510 or email