A police inspector has warned people using laughing gas they could face prosecution.

Silver capsules used to store nitrous oxide, which is used as a propellant gas in the catering industry and as a painkiller, have recently been found in streets, parks and other public areas in Epping, Waltham Abbey and Loughton.

Capsules have been found scattered in Traps Hill, Stonards Hill and Hemnall Street in Epping, Sun Street in Waltham Abbey and at various locations in and around Roding Road, Loughton.

And although possessing the substance is not a criminal offence, Epping Forest neighbourhood inspector Andy Fuscher has warned those driving under its influence.

He said: “We are finding bottles left all over the place and sometimes there can be as many as 50 at a time.

“We have had reports of youngsters driving recklessly in car parks but if anyone drives having taken the gas they will be committing an offence.”

Donna Martin, Essex drug and alcohol partnership trainer for The Children’s Society, said nitrous oxide was the most used legal high in 2012, with 350,000 16 to 24-year-olds using it in the one year alone.

She said: “I don’t think users are aware of the dangers as much as other drugs such as powders like cocaine.

“It is so popular, especially at festivals and outside nightclubs because it is cheap and readily available, there are even websites dedicated to it.”

Epping Forest Neighbourhood Watch issued a warning to parents earlier this week about the dangers of taking nitrous oxide, which include dizziness, nerve damage or even asphyxiation and death.