Popularly known as laughing gas and one of the most popular nightlife drugs among young people. Nitrous oxide is a gas, which is used for many applications including: anesthesia, in food production (whipped cream syringes) and as a fuel. Nitrous oxide is also used recreationally and not without danger: the gas is inhaled causing a narcotic high. Characteristics for the high are: dizziness, distortion of sound, euphoria and a tingling feeling all over the body. The effects of nitrous oxide are short-lived.
Where does nitrous oxide come from?
The official name of laughing gas is nitrous oxide. It is a gas and consists of compounds of nitrogen and oxygen.
The gas was discovered as early as 1776, but it took at least another twenty years before people started experimenting with it. It was an Englishman, Sir Humphrey Davy, who began to work with it. He worked for an institute that researched the therapeutic use of gases. He named the vapor "laughing gas" because the gas induces euphoric fits of laughter.
It was not long before laughing gas became a popular drug. It was even an attraction at the fair and became very popular in the 19th century. Spectators could enjoy people ingesting nitrous oxide and, among other things, pass out and get the giggles. Artists and inventors were also fans, including James Watt, the inventor of the modern steam engine and copier. Real nitrous oxide parties were held, where a group of people would inhale the vapor together.
Nitrous oxide continued to be a common agent during operations, such as at the dentist's office. Nowadays, it is still widely used as an anesthetic in hospitals.
How do you use nitrous oxide?
Nitrous oxide is available in the form of a vapor that you can inhale. A popular way is to use filled balloons that are deflated. These nitrous oxide balloons are sometimes just available at a night store or at a club. Another way is to contact what is known as a nitrous oxide courier. Just as you would have fast food delivered to your home, you can order nitrous oxide that way.
After the vapor is inhaled, the strong intoxication takes place for about 30 seconds to a minute. Sounds are distorted, a euphoric feeling occurs and it can seem as if you have butterflies in your stomach. After this, the effect already ebbs away and a fit of laughter may occur. Even though the effect of laughing gas lasts only a very short time, it is dangerous to carry out certain activities afterwards, such as driving a car. In recent years the number of traffic accidents has increased due to drivers who had used laughing gas. It is important not to participate in traffic for at least one and a half hours after taking a balloon.
Effects of laughing gas
The use of nitrous oxide produces various effects that can be characterized as dissociative. Below are some common effects of nitrous oxide.
- Dizziness: a user can become unbalanced and, for example, fall over. However, this effect only occurs in a portion of users.
- Euphoria: on a physical and mental level, a feeling of euphoria may occur. It can range from mildly pleasurable to ecstasy.
- Numbness in the body: partly due to this property, nitrous oxide is suitable as an anesthetic during operations. It is common for a reduction in sensation to occur in the limbs.
- Change in body sensation: a strange effect of nitrous oxide is that it can make it seem as if your body is suddenly much longer, or stretched out in a strange way or changed shape.
- Reduction in motor skills: motor skills are greatly reduced under the influence of nitrous oxide. This means that it is difficult to impossible to perform precision work and that you quickly lose balance.
- Forgetfulness: common is the occurrence of amnesia, or forgetting of events and memory loss.
- Reduction of anxiety: this helps, among other things, when nitrous oxide is used as an analgesic during operations.
- Déjà vu: users under the influence of nitrous oxide may have the strong feeling of experiencing an event that has happened before.
- Laughing fits: Intense laughing fits and giggles occur and of course the gas got its name from this.
- Ego death: it is possible to experience a form of ego death with laughing gas. When this happens, 'you' as a person fall away and temporarily no longer exist. Afterwards it can seem as if your whole history is glued together again into one whole. What also occurs is a very strong sense of connection with everything. Compared to psychedelics like psilocybin, these effects are less intense and profound.
In combination with alcohol
Nitrous oxide combined with alcohol can make for a dangerous interaction. They reinforce each other's narcotic effects and can cause sudden loss of consciousness. It is common for users to have blackouts and lose some of their memory. Other dangerous combinations with drugs include GHB and opioids.
Nitrous oxide as an anesthetic in the hospital
Did you know that nitrous oxide has been used as a medical drug to sedate patients for over 200 years? The gas has an analgesic effect and can also be used as an anesthetic, for example during dental surgery. It is also used as an analgesic during childbirth.
Nowadays nitrous oxide is only used in combination with other drugs. Oxygen is always added and usually another anesthetic as well. In the Netherlands, nitrous oxide is used less and less because of the emergence of other drugs that can be used during operations.
Exactly how nitrous oxide works as an anesthetic is not yet fully known. It works as an anesthetic and induces a state of deep sleep, also called narcosis. As a result, a patient has little or no awareness of the operation. Furthermore, the vapor also has an analgesic and anxiety-inhibiting effect and induces relaxation in the muscles. Nitrous oxide is also used in ambulances to reduce anxiety and help patients relax. It’s also used in emergency rooms, always in combination with the right amount of oxygen.
Is the use of nitrous oxide dangerous?
Within medical care, nitrous oxide is generally regarded as a very safe substance. Nowadays, laughing gas is always combined with oxygen to ensure safety. The substance has gotten a bad name because people used to perform surgeries where patients were given 100% nitrous oxide for long periods of time. This is harmful to health because it can cause a shortage of oxygen. This is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it increases the risk of miscarriage.
Vitamin B12 deficiency due to laughing gas
Research shows that laughing gas has a negative effect on the connections between neurons in the brain. This is likely due, in part, to the fact that vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by long term use of the drug. Nitrous oxide converts the active vitamin B12 in the body into an inactive analogue. In animal experiments, nitrous oxide is sometimes used to make laboratory animals deficient in this vitamin. Vegetarians and vegans in particular have to watch out for a deficiency of this important vitamin. It is mainly found in animal products. But meat eaters can also quickly become deficient in vitamin B12. Therefore, there are several supplements that can help with the deficiency.
People who have used a lot of nitrous oxide in the past and suffer from mental disorders are partly affected by a (severe) deficiency of this vitamin.
Experimenting with laughing gas as a legal party drug?
Many young people like to experiment with drugs. Nitrous oxide is a popular recreational drug and has thus enjoyed the status of party drug for several hundred years.
Nitrous oxide is legal in several countries. In the Netherlands it officially falls under the Commodities Act, because it is also used in the food industry for, for example, whipped cream syringes. These are sold legally.
Nitrous oxide ban in 2022
Currently, more than half of all municipalities in the Netherlands have a ban on nitrous oxide. The government is working on a new law, which in 2022 will ensure that laughing gas will be on list II of the Opium Act, along with other soft drugs. Until now, nitrous oxide was a legal drug that was easy to get hold of. If this new regulation is implemented, possessing nitrous oxide can get you a fine.
Reasons for this ban is the fuss that has been created after several users have suffered permanent complications due to an excessive amount of nitrous oxide. Users who use dozens of nitrous oxide balloons a day are more likely to suffer permanent damage, including brain damage.
Drug dealers who also distribute a lot of nitrous oxide say they have noticed nothing of the regional ban. In an interview with NOS, however, it was stated that people now buy nitrous oxide in larger quantities since the ban and that it has become popular to buy the stuff in tanks. With this you can get as many as 250 balloons. Drug researchers see a trend of (young) users experimenting with nitrous oxide. According to them the use of nitrous oxide is not without danger, but a ban is probably not the answer. People will continue to buy nitrous oxide cartridges and tanks within the illegal circuit.
For harm reduction it is especially important that young people are well informed about the use of this substance and are aware of the risks.
In-depth experience with magic mushrooms
Even though laughing gas is (semi) legal in many countries, including the Netherlands, its use is increasingly discouraged. At Sirius we especially recommend to inform yourself as well as possible about a certain drug and to know well what the dangers are. Whether it is legal or illegal. Will you choose a party drug or are you looking for a deeper experience? At Sirius you can find natural psychedelics like Magic Mushrooms.
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