During the telephone interview with Aaron, an almost squeaky suction noise is heard on the other side of the line. It’s the sound of Aaron inhaling laughing gas from a balloon. It is the sound of Aaron’s addiction.
How it started
It started six months ago – “not so long ago.” Aaron (real name known to the editors) was at friends’ house. A balloon went round like a chip bag goes round. Aaron took a gulp. And another one. And another one.
“I did it to feel good,” said Aaron. “And now I do it because I feel very bad without laughing gas.”
Because from one balloon one evening, with the whole group of friends, it quickly went to a few tanks in one evening. “One to two hundred balloons can come out of one tank,” he says. “So yes. That’s quite a lot. Not very good for your body. I already knew that at the time, but I only felt it a few weeks ago.”
It started with tingling, a limp in his legs. And then Aaron woke up one day and was unable to move. “I just couldn’t lift my legs anymore. Very strange. I immediately thought: cunt, that’s because of the laughing gas.” There was panic. With him, with his girlfriend, with his family. “I just fell to the floor when I tried to walk.”
For the first time, it has been mapped how many nitrous oxide victims have been treated in the hospital and what the exact physical damage is. Neurologists saw more patients than ever in the past year and the number of victims continues to increase.
At least 64 youth have been treated with partial spinal cord injury in the hospital for the past two years due to the use of nitrous oxide. This is evident from a sample of the Dutch Association for Neurology (NVN). The damage can be enormous and the victims are young: an average of 22 years old.
In a wheelchair
The doctor immediately sent Aaron to the hospital. He ended up in a wheelchair, because walking really was no longer possible, and then all kinds of investigations came up. “I was honest right away,” said Aaron. “I immediately said, ‘Listen, I use nitrous oxide. A lot. And I’m addicted to it.'”
The results of the MRI scan are not yet available, but according to Aaron, the doctors expect him to have a spinal cord injury. “They don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent. They don’t know anything. I can hit myself on the head, though. I’m 25 and addicted, I’m in the condition of an old grandfather. But yes, I’m a grown man “This is simply the consequence of my behavior. Looking back? It makes no sense.”
He says nothing more for a moment. There is again an inhaling sound and the beeping of a balloon.
In the beginning he went out for a while, but not anymore: he has ‘used too much for too long’. He would love to listen to the doctors and “stop that stuff immediately,” but he can’t. “As soon as I stop, I feel nauseous, dizzy, I just want to sleep, I feel very down. I am about to start an addiction program, a day treatment at an addiction clinic.”
How permanent is the damage?
A spinal cord injury from nitrous oxide use often arises sub-acutely, says neurologist Lucille Dorresteijn. “People with a sub-acute spinal cord injury are not paralyzed overnight. They often feel a tingling sensation for a while, they are less able to stand on their feet.”
The lack of vitamin B12 causes things to go wrong in the spinal cord: the ‘highway’ over which nerve pathways run and with which the muscles are controlled from the brain. “Laughing gas often results in a partial spinal cord injury,” says Dorresteijn. In addition, the patient is often not completely paralyzed, and there is a chance of recovery. “We see that vitamin B12 provides recovery in this type of patient, but we don’t know if it applies to all of them.”
He now swallows and sprays B12 to maintain his vitamin stores: nitrous oxide causes B12 deficiency, which can cause damage to your spinal cord.
“But I can inject vitamins what I want, my condition has seriously deteriorated. I can’t even walk around my house properly. I stumble. Weird, because I’m young, was a fit boy, stood a few times a week at the gym. I wonder if I can ever do that again. “
“It’s like losing your balance all the time, like falling over,” his girlfriend adds. She is sitting on the couch next to him. And yes: she also uses laughing gas.
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Walking is ‘a little better’. Slowly. He exchanged the wheelchair for crutches, he now only uses the crutches for longer distances. “That’s why I have hope that the paralysis symptoms are temporary. But you don’t know if it will come back.”
He is not afraid. His family and friends do. They have often asked – or no, even begged – whether he wants to stop. “I’m sorry I started. Because you know? The danger is just that you don’t know exactly how much you get in. Because you go on and on -” another sucking noise – “it can affect your whole life. “
That is why he tells his story once, anonymously (‘I don’t want any snoopers’). “I want to get rid of everyone who does it now and then or wants to do it. It seems so innocent, but it can be really harmful. People have to stop. And me too.”
On the other side of the line a suction sound is heard again.