The Effects of Inhaling Nitrous Oxide

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Nitrous oxide is widely used in minor surgeries and dentist offices as an anesthetic.
Nitrous oxide is widely used in minor surgeries and dentist offices as an anesthetic. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Nitrous oxide, also known as N2O or laughing gas, is a colorless, odorless gas used to sedate patients prior to dental surgery. It is also used in the baking industry as a propellant for whipped cream and other toppings. The effects of its inhalation have been described as euphoric, and have been in use since the late 1700s. These euphoric effects have led to abuse of the gas, as well as the regulation of its sale and penalties for illegal sale.

Sensation

The effects of nitrous oxide last only a minute or two, with much milder after affects that can last for several minutes. The gas induces a pleasurable pulsating feeling throughout the body, causes laughing and lightheadedness, and can be described as a “happy drunk” feeling. It can also cause fixated vision, and pulsating auditory hallucinations.

Numbness

When nitrous oxide is administered in combination with oxygen over a period of time, it will begin to numb the senses as well as the body. The pain threshold of the body is greatly increased. This makes the gas ideal for minor oral surgeries where much heavier anesthetics are not needed.

Deep Voice

Nitrous oxide does not flow over the vocal chords like air, and when exhaled, produces a deepening of the voice. The decrease in pitch has been described as having the opposite effects of helium exhalation, and produces a low baritone voice.

Dangers

Inhaling nitrous oxide can have extremely disorienting effects, which can then lead to trips, falls and other injuries. Gas stored in pressurized tanks is usually stored at temperatures cold enough to cause frostbite, which could cause damage to the lips or lungs. Long-term use and abuse can cause a myriad of neurological and physiological problems. Nitrous oxide should only be administered by licensed, trained professionals.

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