CHILDREN and young people are putting themselves at risk of harm inhaling a gas supposed to be used in medicine and catering.

The warning comes after police discovered 36 discarded 'laughing gas' cannisters in a village play park.

While not illegal, taking the gas, formally known as nitrous oxide, can result in the user taking risks and being exposed to danger.

The empty containers were found in Cotford St Luke after police were called at around 10pm on Friday to reports of youngsters' anti-social behaviour.

An Avon and Somerset force spokesman said: "They were noisy and playing music on their phones. We arrived and there was no-one there.

"There were empty nitrous oxide cans which were cleared.

"We carried out additional patrols in the area over the weekend.

"Anyone with any information is asked to contact us, quoting reference 5218266788."

A tweet from the constabulary said there was "evidence of substance misuse", adding "#whatareyourkidsupto #your community #notacceptable".

Nitrous oxide has a number of legitimate uses in medicine, such as as an anaesthetic, and catering as an approved food additive when used as a propellant for whipped cream. It is also used in vehicle engines.

But it is one of the most popular recreational drugs among young people. When inhaled, it can make users feel euphoric and relaxed, with some reporting hallucinations.

Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group spokesman Paul Courtney said: "The use of nitrous oxide is not illegal, but like alcohol the gas can cause dizziness or affect your judgement, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously and put you at risk of hurting yourself, particularly in an unsafe environment.

"Family doctors would advise parents to talk to children and young people in their family about the risks of inhaling the gas and the potential risks of harm if they hurt themselves whilst affected by the gas."

Empty nitrous oxide cylinders have also been reported at various locations across Taunton, including Comeytrowe and Kilkenny, and in Bishops Lydeard at the weekend.

Home Office guidance says inhaling laughing gas can lead to loss of blood pressure, fainting and even heart attack and prolonged exposure can result in bone marrow suppression and poisoning of the central nervous system.

It can also cause unconsciousness and even death from lack of oxygen.

The risks are likely to be exacerbated if use of the gas is combined with alcohol or other drugs.

Although the gas is not a controlled drug, the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 bans the sale to under 18s or someone acting on their behalf of substances the seller has reason to believe may be inhaled for the purposes of intoxication.

Parents or young people concerned about the use of laughing gas should visit