Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling was pictured taking nitrous oxideGetty

Liverpool FC have said they are aware of footage that apparently shows Raheem Sterling taking nitrous oxide, a legal drug commonly known as laughing gas.

A video published by the Sun appears to show the 20-year-old inhaling the gas in his living room before passing out. The report emerged after Sterling scored in Liverpool's 2–0 win against Newcastle at Anfield on Monday.

A club spokesperson said: "We are aware of the story and intend to speak to the player. Any subsequent action will be taken internally."

What is nitrous oxide?

Nicknamed "hippy crack", nitrous oxide is popular among young people as a gas that can induce feelings of relaxation and and giddiness. Some people also experience hallucinations. Possession of the drug is legal, although it is banned from being sold to under-18s.

Nitrous oxide is legitimately used to numb pain during medical procedures such as dental work. It is also used to prevent substances in aerosol cans, such as whipped cream, from going bad.

Laughing gas
Festival goers inhale laughing gas at Glastonbury music festival in 2013Reuters

What are the risks when inhaling nitrous oxide?

Although people widely view the gas as a "safe" drug, this is not necessarily true. "There is a risk of death as a lack of oxygen can occur when using nitrous oxide," a spokesperson from the organisation Frank told IBTimes UK. "This risk is likely to be greater if the gas is consumed in an enclosed space or if a substantial amount is rapidly used."

The gas can impair judgement, which might make the user act carelessly or dangerously, which could pose a danger in an unsafe environment. Heavy and regular use of nitrous oxide can also lead to a severe B12 deficiency, which can lead to serious nerve damage in some cases.

Regular users of laughing gas may also experience problems with the formation of their white blood cells. Mixing nitrous oxide with alcohol is particularly dangerous, as it can increase the risks associated with both substances.

Last year, the Local Government Association warned of the harmful effects of laughing gas, after it was revealed officials were seizing canisters of the gas in large quantities. In one of these "hauls", council officers confiscated more than 1,200 canisters on one Saturday night from outside pubs and bars in Shoreditch, east London.

An estimated 500,000 people across Britain are thought to have used laughing gas. And there have been deaths linked to it. In 2012, schoolboy Joseph Benett, 17, died after suffering a heart attack and brain damage after inhaling the gas from a canister with his friends.