Balloons filled with nitrous oxide have long been a popular recreational drug among youth in Thailand, and have begun to appear in Laos and Vietnam as well.
Known as “Happy Balloons” in Laos and Thailand, or “Funky Balls” in Vietnam, balloons filled with nitrous oxide have become a mainstay among young partygoers across Southeast Asia.
According to a report by The Nation, “Happy Balloons”, filled with nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, have been sold along Bangkok’s notorious Khao Sarn Road since at least 2013. From THB 50 to THB 150, the gas-filled balloons are even provided to guests as they enter bars and nightclubs.
The use of the gas quickly spread to other parts of Thailand popular among partygoers, including Pattaya, and islands such as Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan.
Inevitably, the phenomenon would arrive in Laos, as tourists visiting Thailand frequently travel onward into Laos, bringing with them some of the party habits popular there.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. The gas is inhaled by discharging nitrous gas cartridges (bulbs or whippets) into a balloon, from which it can be inhaled.
The effect of inhaling nitrous oxide produces a rapid rush of euphoria and a feeling of excitement for a short period of time, according to Australia’s Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
The gas has not been made illegal in many countries due to its use in hospitals and dental clinics.
According to one tourist who spoke with the Laotian Times, “Happy Balloons” are common at bars in Vientiane Capital and particularly in Vang Vieng.
“Teenagers like to try this and enjoy it because the intoxication lasts only a short time. But they are ignorant about the dangers of the gas,” he said.
Nitrous oxide affects everyone differently, depending on the amount taken and the user’s size and weight. It will also affect a user in different ways when taken in combination with other drugs.
Large doses could cause loss of blood pressure, fainting, or even cardiac arrest, while long-term effects from prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide include memory loss, nerve damage, a weakened immune system, depression, and psychosis.