The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention has written to education authorities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi after an increase in the misuse of ethyl chloride spray among students.
It said students have been purchasing the spray, better known as laughing gas, from various social networking sites, e-commerce websites, private pharmacies and specialty stores.
The ministry has issued a circular warning of the dangers of the spray which acts as a local anaesthetic that affects the central nervous system when inhaled.
Dr Amin Hussein Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary for the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention’s Public Policy and Licensing Sector, said local youths inhale the compound after spraying it on a piece of cloth which results in a burst of laughter or crying, followed by hallucination.
He said that the product is not criminalised, is low in cost compared to other drug classes, and is easily available, leading to many cases of addiction among school and university students, Arabian Business reported.
He added that the ministry has mobilised its team to "contain its use as it is causing devastation to health and social life".
The ministry has written to the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), urging them to monitor the behaviour of students "in case of any widespread practice".
Al Amiri said all pharmacies have also been advised not sell ethyl chloride to youths under 18 years.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short-term side effects of inhalation of ethyl chloride include feeling drunk, lack of coordination, and loss of consciousness.
Long-term exposure to high amounts of the chemical can lead to many neurological side effects such as slow reactions, speechlessness, tremors, involuntary movement of the eye, and hallucinations. Inhalation of the spray may drain oxygen out of the body leading to death while prolonged use can also damage to liver, kidney and the peripheral nerves causing the loss of sensation and inability to control the muscles.