Beyond Laughter: The Disturbing Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide

You’ve probably heard about the laughing gas. You must have heard about it through a television show, news or from your friends. If you’ve been inspired by such TV series and thinking about using the laughing gas, then the following article is for you. What if we told you that this laughing gas is extremely hazardous for your health? Let’s talk about it in depth.

Let’s first understand what is Nitrous oxide?

Joseph Priestley, man behind the discovery of nitrous oxide

In 1772, an English scientist named “Joseph Priestley” developed laughing gas, scientifically known as nitrous oxide. When Joseph Priestley was heating ammonium nitrate with a Bunsen burner, a colorless gas was obtained, the gas was nitrous oxide. It is a colorless gas with no hue, and when a person smells it, various changes take place within the person’s body, and he begins to laugh uncontrollably. That is why it famously called ‘Laughing Gas’.

Transition of Nitrous oxide from Operating Rooms to Party Scenes

So it’s started when “Sir Humphry Davy” conducted further research on the nitrous oxide gas in 1799, and as a result, he discovered about the effect of laughing gas on the mind as well as the body. Since then, this gas has mostly been employed in dental surgical treatments.

Nitrous oxide is mainly used during dental surgery procedures

The use of nitrous oxide has the benefit of helping patients who have anxiety and also struggle to tolerate the pain before the procedure. It functions as a light sedative, giving the patient euphoria and an overall feeling of relaxation, allowing the individual’s brain to remain calm and allow him to comply appropriately during the procedure.

It is superior to other sedatives since the patient does not go entirely dizzy and retains full consciousness. This gas stops the pain signals from travelling them to brain. Another unique feature of this gas is that its effect lasts only 15-30 minutes, which is really beneficial for a quick recovery after surgery.

However, things started going wrong when individuals began to use it at parties and social events. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in or share an experience are all factors that contribute to its use. People used to feel a sensation of relaxation and enjoyment after taking this, which relieved them in stress. Adults (18-24) began to use it actively due to its simple availability and publicity in music, popular culture, and media. As a result, it begun to be utilized more for leisure activities rather than medical procedures.

How it is misused by individuals?

  • Social environment: This laughing gas is frequently used in social settings. It is used in the form of an inflated balloon. This balloon filled with laughing gas is passed among friends to create a sense of camaraderie. People see inhaling up the gas-filled balloon as a fascinating and adventurous experience. People laugh and experience happiness after taking it, which creates an enjoyable atmosphere among the people. That’s why it is used in almost every famous parties.
  • Used for relieving stress: Many people take it on a regular basis to relieve temporary stress and as a result, they develop an addiction to it.
  • Pushing Boundaries: People develop a dependency to it after doing it on a regular basis, to the point where a given dose no longer provides the stress reduction that it earlier delivered. After doing this repeatedly, a tolerance for this gas is established, and the individual has to raise its quantity to break this tolerance, resulting in a negative effect on his health in the long run.

Health hazards of laughing gas

When used in large quantities, laughing gas poses a number of health risks: –

  • Poor neurological coordination: It has a negative effect on the nerves, causing mental coordination to become impaired. Due to this, a person has to deal with great difficulties in his or her everyday activities.
  • Birth defects: Inhaling nitrous oxide has an effect on both male and female reproductive systems. As a consequence, couples has to deal with issues such as birth abnormalities, miscarriages, and defects in sperm motility and shape.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency: As you may be aware, Vitamin B12 is critical for the development of the protective sheath of myelin, which covers the neurons and aids in electrical insulation. Continuous nitrous oxide usage has been linked to vitamin B12 deficiency, which stops the body from absorbing vitamin B12 and causes nerve damage.
  • Poor oxygen supply in body: Nitrous oxide is a gas that substitutes oxygen; when consumed in excess, it decreases oxygen levels. As a result, a person feels dizzy, confused, and may even die.

Extreme cases of Laughing gas

  • Case of Kayleigh Burns: Kayleigh Burns, a 16-year-old girl, was admitted to the hospital after inhaling laughing gas during a home party. According to medical sources, she suffered an asthma attack and passed away as a result of it.
  • Case of Musa: Sky News recently featured the story of Musa (20 years old male). Musa was using laughing gas to relieve stress. But he was not aware that the mistake he made would land him in such a difficult situation. One day Musa’s woke up with no sensation in lower limbs, he was not able move or stand on his feet.  As a result, he was hospitalized. According to medical reports, Musa had severe nerve damage as a result of his intake of laughing gas, which resulted in paralysis.

Laws against usage of Nitrous oxide

Here is a general overview of how different countries approach the use of nitrous oxide:

  1. United States: In the United States, nitrous oxide is commonly used for medical and dental purposes as an anesthetic. However, its recreational use as a “party drug” is regulated by state and federal laws. Some states have specific laws against the possession, sale, or distribution of nitrous oxide for recreational use, while others may not have explicit laws addressing its recreational use.
  2. United Kingdom: The UK has regulations in place to control the sale and possession of nitrous oxide for recreational use. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 prohibits the production, supply, and importation of psychoactive substances, including nitrous oxide, for human consumption. Possession is not explicitly covered by this act, but there have been discussions about potential changes to the law.
  3. Australia: Different states and territories in Australia have varying regulations on nitrous oxide. In some places, it may be legally sold for culinary purposes (such as for whipped cream dispensers), but its sale for recreational use can be regulated or restricted.
  4. Canada: Nitrous oxide is regulated as a prescription drug and is used for medical and dental purposes. Its non-medical use, such as for recreational inhalation, is subject to various regulations at the provincial and federal levels.
  5. European Union: Nitrous oxide is regulated differently across EU member states. Some countries have specific laws against its recreational use, while others may regulate it as a medical or industrial product.
  6. Japan: The sale of nitrous oxide for non-medical purposes is prohibited, and its use is subject to legal restrictions.
  7. Singapore: Nitrous oxide is considered a controlled substance under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, and its possession or trafficking is illegal.
  8. New Zealand: The Psychoactive Substances Act of New Zealand regulates the sale and distribution of psychoactive substances, including nitrous oxide. The act requires that substances have passed testing and approval processes before being legally sold.
  9. India: The sale and possession of nitrous oxide for non-medical purposes are regulated in India, and its misuse can lead to legal consequences.

What is the solution?

Addressing the recreational use of nitrous oxide requires a multifaceted approach. Public awareness campaigns can educate individuals about the risks and legal consequences of misuse. Strengthening regulations and penalties, ensuring responsible retail practices, providing support services, and collaborating with law enforcement and international partners collectively form a comprehensive strategy to curb its recreational use.

Tackling the recreational use of nitrous oxide demands a comprehensive strategy. This entails educating the public about its risks, reinforcing regulations and penalties, promoting responsible retail practices, offering support services for individuals in need, and fostering collaboration between law enforcement and international counterparts to effectively address the issue.

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