A CRAZE sweeping the region has been dubbed 'no laughing matter' by police.

Nicknamed 'balloon' the process involves the inhalation of nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas.

Greater Manchester Police are looking to raise awareness of the increasing trend amongst people under the age of 24.

The first data to be released on the use of nitrous oxide reveals more than six per cent, or 350,000, of people aged 16-24 used the drug last year.

Police say laughing gas "seems safe" but actually can be lethal, causing hyperventilation.

Last year, three clubbers at La Spatule in Bradshawgate were rushed to hospital in a suspected laughing gas incident.

The trio were found to have also taken class A drugs but a licensing hearing, at which councillors imposed stricter conditions on La Spatule but allowed it to continue trading, heard that revellers admitted to paramedics that they had taken laughing gas.

Some tubes used to inhale laughing gas are understood to have been found on the floor of the club, which led police to initially believe that a bad reaction to the substance was the reason for the trio being taken ill.

A police spokesman said: "Laughing gas, because of its legality, makes it seem 'safe' and therefore, popular.

"This is not the case. Nitrous oxide is actually very dangerous to health and can be fatal.

"Repeated abuse can cause respiratory depression, also known as hyperventilation.

"Carbon dioxide is prevented from leaving the body and this reduces the amount of oxygen received by the brain."

Although legal at the moment, it is illegal to sell laughing gas to under-18s if the person selling knows it is to be drawn into the lungs.

Continued use of the canisters can damage lungs and even lead to death.

The Local Government Association, of which Bolton Council is a member, has issued a warning over the use of laughing gas.

Katie Hall, chair of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "It is deeply disturbing that this drug, which can be highly dangerous, is still widely viewed as safe.

"It is imperative that users understand just how harmful it can be. This gas can kill — and much more needs to be done to get this message across."

She also called on internet corporations to "step up to the plate" and "show responsibility by providing health warnings and links to drug awareness charities".

She added: "It is wholly unacceptable that this craze is being glamorised and encouraged in this way."

Nitrous oxide is a non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet odour and taste, commonly used in surgery and dentistry for its anaesthetic analgesic effects.