According to police, the man was found to have collapsed in a hotel room in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on April 13. He was immediately taken to a hospital and a 119 rescue team performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but he was soon pronounced dead.
Police found about 120 capsules of nitrous oxide, balloons and rubber tubes at the scene. Seventeen of the capsules had signs of being used.
The National Forensic Service concluded that the cause of death could not be identified. But it said that there was a possibility that the man died from overuse of nitrous oxide.
Balloons filled with nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, have grown more popular nationwide, especially in entertainment districts and college towns here, as they are sold at a relatively low price of around 5,000 won ($4.50).
Nitrous oxide can be used as an anesthetic in hospitals and in the production of whipped cream. When inhaled, it allows the user to feel euphoria for about 20 seconds and to become insensitive to pain. It may cause hysteria, damage to the brain and nerve cells, and even death in severe cases when large amounts are ingested.
The incident in April was the first death in the country caused by laughing gas. “Although there are no accurate statistics, I’ve never seen this type of accident before,” a police official said.
Currently, there are no regulations on nonmedical uses of happy balloons here, as they are not classified as drugs or a psychotomimetic agent.
“We are reviewing the measures on nitrous oxide, as it is being used for other purposes than producing whipped cream,” said an official at the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
The US and UK strictly ban the use of nitrous oxide except for specific permitted purposes, such as for medical reasons, as many have died from inhaling the gas in the past 10 years.
By Byun Hee-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org)