In the year 1775, Joseph Priestly synthesized nitrous oxide or N2O, which was a weak anesthetic or painkiller. It was also known as laughing gas. The other anesthetics which were discovered early on were chloroform and ether. From these three anesthetics, only nitrous oxide is still in regular use. It is not strong enough to be used in surgery, but was ideal to be used in dentistry, which is less painful. This gas is known to make people laugh and hence some people use it for recreational purpose. But it is important to know the laughing gas side effects before using it.
Laughing Gas Side Effects
Laughing gas side effects are seen as serious and dangerous when it is used recreationally. Otherwise the side effects are not very severe and are rare. Normally when someone comes into contact with nitrous oxide, the side effects are feeling light headed, a floating sensation, feeling euphoric, tingling in the arms and legs, a sense of warmth creeping in and an increase in threshold for pain.
If there is an over dose of nitrous oxide, the person can reach a deeper or higher level of sedation and exhibit symptoms like nausea, difficulty in speaking or in keeping eyes open and sleepiness.
Although it happens more often than other laughing gas side effects, it is not acknowledged often. Nitrous oxide causes the vitamin B12 stores in the body to get depleted and this causes mental confusion. Vitamin B12 deficiency is more likely to happen in elderly individuals, vegetarians, vegans, and people suffering from pernicious anemia, diabetics taking metformin or anyone who is taking the recreational drug – whippets.
In this condition, the levels of homocysteine increase in the blood and it happens to everyone when given nitrous oxide. High homocysteine levels are associated with increased rates of heart conditions and Alzheimer’s disease. After one dose of nitrous oxide, the high homocysteine level lasted for a month. People who suffer from Methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency should not be given nitrous oxide, as it can result in death. Family history should be taken or the person should be put on Vitamin B12 or folic acid supplement.
Hearing and Other Ear Problems
Nitrous oxide is administered by placing a gas mask on the nose and mouth. This usually causes the pressure in the middle ear to be elevated. Not everyone will notice this problem, but a small number of people have experienced sudden hearing loss, blood in the ear and tympanic membrane rupture. This is also not a commonly occurring problem; however, anyone who has ear problems should inform the doctor about it.
Lack of Oxygen
Also known as hypoxia, it is the most serious laughing gas side effect. The oxygen requirements of the body are not met, since the person is breathing shallow or stopped breathing. This happens because the person is very sleepy due to over-sedation. It is a very rare side effect, but has happened. In case it goes undiagnosed, the person can die. However, in most of the cases, oxygen is administered and it helps in reviving the patient.
FAQs About Laughing Gas
What Does Inhaling Laughing Gas Feel Like?
Given below is the description of laughing gas inhalation by a person who has experienced it:
Laughing gas causes a sense of being disoriented as well as paranoia. The person gets convinced that things are cyclic and all events are occurring in a cyclic manner. It feels as if déjà vu is happening to you over and over again. It is not very pleasant, however, is profound.
Is Laughing Gas Illegal?
Given the number of laughing gas side effects, you might wonder is laughing gas illegal. It is not. You can possess it or sell it as well. It is illegal however, to sell it for the purpose of inhalation in the State of California as well as most other states. 15 months of imprisonment was awarded to a person who sold it along with a device to inhale it. Hence, it is better to check the law of the state before buying it.
How Long Does Laughing Gas Last?
The quantity of laughing gas inhaled or administered will determine how long laughing gas last. It hits a person instantly or within a few seconds. If more gas is not inhaled, it lasts only for a few seconds.
Is Laughing Gas Addictive?
It is mostly used recreationally and occasionally. Some people, however, can crave for it and take lot of gas at one time.
Cautions When Using Laughing Gas
- Do not wear a gas mask which covers the face. This will prevent you from getting oxygen, if you pass out.
- One should never lock oneself in a room, car, refrigerator or closet with nitrous oxide gas running. This can result in death.
- Never attempt to make nitrous oxide at home, unless you are a qualified chemist. You might end up getting NO2, H2NO3 and other toxic gases.