YOUNGSTERS in St Ives are using cheap laughing gas canisters to get high, police are warning parents.

Increasing numbers of used nitrous oxide canisters are being found around the town and in nearby villages.

The 6cm grey canisters - known as whippets - are sold legally for about 50p each to the cooking industry to use in whipped cream dispensers, but their sale for recreational use is against the law.

Despite this, the inexpensive products are at the centre of a new craze and are finding their way into the hands of teenagers, who view laughing gas as a harmless way of getting high.

St Ives PCSO Rachel Anderson said: "We've had reports of charges being found in Warner's Park, Wheatfields, the old golf course and in Needingworth - all places where kids tend to hang out.

"We want to make parents aware these are being sold to teenagers."

St Ives businessman Ian McFarlane-Toms, 52, said the general debris being left by partying youngsters in the town was becoming a safety risk both to themselves and residents.

"I'm not a killjoy and I have no problem with kids partying," said the Church Street father of two.

"But I have spent the last couple of days collecting together the remnants of a party that happened some time over the weekend on the old golf course - burned chairs and gazebo, broken gas bottles, balloons and spent nitrous oxide canisters.

"While I can't condone the recreational use of nitrous oxide, it's a lot less harmful than many other things youngsters consume or use and for that we should be grateful.

"But, if the side-effect is that the mental age of the consumers is reduced to the level that they become wanton vandals, then it must be stopped."

Sgt David Savill warned parents in his regular e-Cops e-mail: "At the moment gas canisters are being sold to teenagers so they are able to get a high from the gas.

"Please check that your children are not getting hold of these. They look a bit like the soda stream canisters."

A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency said consequences of nitrous oxide inhalation could be fatal.

"Laughing gas, nitrous oxide as it is medically known, carries serious long-term health risks such as brain damage for people who use it for fun.

"We would like to highlight the health risks associated with its recreational inhalation.

"Hypoxia can occur, which may lead to loss of blood pressure, fainting and even heart attack. Prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide may also result in anaemia, bone marrow suppression and poisoning of the central nervous system.

"These risks are likely to be exacerbated if the exposure to the gas is combined with alcohol or narcotics."

The sale of nitrous oxide to people under 18 is illegal in the UK and doing so is a breach of the Medicines Act.

Nitrous oxide is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as "laughing gas" because of the euphoric effects of inhaling it, the property that has led to its recreational use.