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Nitrous Oxide Side Effects

Nitrous Oxide was originally formulated by Joseph Priestly in 1772 and directions on its production were outlined in his book Experiments on Different Kinds of Air, published in 1775. This gas was not used for any significant purpose until 1794 when James Watt introduced a machine designed to inhale it. He worked together with Thomas Beddoes and released a book which outlined the production of this machine and emphasized its possible medical potential.

The drug began being used recreationally among the British upper class in 1799 and it rapidly grew in popularity. The drug induces exaggerated euphoria in the user which often results in laughter, hence the street name “laughing gas”.


Nitrous oxide is a member of the dissociative class of intoxicants which include drugs such as ketamine, PCP and DXM. These substances create a sense of detachment from the world and from awareness of self. Despite the fact that these substances shift perceptions of sight and sound, they do not fall under the category of hallucinogens.


Nitrous Oxide is a highly versatile gas with a plethora of uses. It is used in vehicle racing which allows more fuel to be burned at a time and propels the vehicle at an unusually high speed. This can be a risky application for the automobile as it has the potential to overheat and burn the engine.

Nitrous is a food additive used as an aerosol spray propellant. Whipped cream is most well-known for containing nitrous which explains the drugs well known nick name “whip its”. However, it is also used in cooking sprays and even filling packages of chips and other snack items to inhibit bacteria growth.

Laughing gas is used medically as an anesthetic and anxiolytic in dentistry. It is administered through a relative analgesia machine which accurately and safely doses the patient with nitrous combined with oxygen. This is usually formulated with 70% oxygen and 30% gas as opposed to the pure gas used recreationally.

Nitrous is commonly used recreationally and is procured in head shops around the country in small whip cream cartridges that are typically sold in boxes of 24. These shops many times provide the user with a “cracker”, which breaks the cartridge and allows release of the gas. However, the recreational use of this gas is technically against the law.


Nitrous oxide is an anxiolytic and increases action of the GABAa receptors, which are typically associated with benzodiazepines or alcohol. N20 has definite analgesic properties which are attributed to the endogenous opioid system and the descending noradregenic system. This gas also provides a euphoric effect which has been credited to its stimulating of the mesolimbic reward pathway and the release of dopamine. N20 can also cause sound distortion in its users. The effects are felt almost instantaneously and peak ten to twenty seconds after ingestion and diminish nearly just as quick.


Nitrous oxides effects are pleasurable and short-lived which makes it a perfect candidate for addiction. Many times nitrous is used until none remains and this may induce a psychological dependency in users and a deterioration of personality. Its extreme addiction potential was highlighted by now sober Steve Os documentary Demise and Rise, which showed thousands of empty N20 cartridges scattered about his Hollywood home and him self-administering the dangerous gas at a feverish pace.

Nitrous Oxide Withdrawal

There are no physical withdrawal symptoms from heavy nitrous oxide use despite an extreme desire to obtain more of the gas.

Nitrous Oxide Overdose

Overdose of nitrous oxide occurs via a lack of oxygen running through the participants bloodstream. This happens many times in a confined space such as a car or small room because only .04 percent of the nitrous is metabolized by the body, the rest being exhaled into the breathing space.

Nitrous oxide pushes oxygen out of the blood and during overdose organs begin to function abnormally. This can cause permanent brain damage or death. Overdoses of nitrous are extremely difficult for a coroner to recognize because it leaves no hard evidence of its presence.

Other Resources in: Guide to Inhalant Drugs

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    Other Resources in: Guide to Inhalant Drugs