Nitrous oxide (NO2), more commonly referred to as laughing gas or NOS, is a gas that is typically used for pain relief and its anti-anxiety properties. It is an odourless, colourless, non-flammable gas that can be easily accessed.
Inhaling nitrous oxide can help to alleviate pain and is usually administered for general anaesthesia, procedural sedation, and dental anaesthesia. Nitrous oxide abuse is currently on the rise due to the state of euphoria that it produces. Compared to other anaesthetics, nitrous oxide has minimal effect on respiration and hemodynamics. However, if it is not taken under medical supervision, it can present certain levels of risk. For example, if someone inhales nitrous oxide directly from the canister, it could be perilous as the gas is under extreme pressure.
This can cause negative repercussions such as throat spasms or difficulty breathing. Under medical supervision, it is usually administered as a 50% mixture by mixing nitrous oxide with oxygen, then it is inhaled through a specially designed face mask; taking it straight from the canister without medical supervision could lead to an overconsumption of the gas.
Nitrous oxide appears in the list of the most widely taken drugs. It is the second most commonly taken drug after cannabis and is usually taken as a social drug that is popular in the club scene. Nitrous oxide is usually a medically controlled substance. When taken recreationally, most users inhale pure nitrous oxide from a balloon. Typically, one inhalation will create a feeling of euphoria or joy and occasionally may create hallucinogenic effects. The effects will occur very quickly and disappear within a matter of minutes. Users will typically inhale around eight balloons per sitting.
Nitrous oxide affects brain function and activity, which can translate to bodily sensations. Different sensations will occur depending on the volume taken. Some of the feelings include:
- Euphoric feelings and feeling relaxed and calm
- Uncontrollable laughter
- Hearing distorted sounds or seeing hallucinations
- Preventing logical thinking
- Short-term but intense feelings of paranoia
Furthermore, it can also generate the physical feeling of:
- A severe headache
- Extreme dizziness
Like all other drugs, there are certain risk factors for taking nitrous oxide without medical supervision. It can be extremely dangerous if you inhale nitrous oxide directly from the can or in an enclosed space. Taking too much of it in an enclosed space can lead to a lack of oxygen and can cause people to fall unconscious or suffocate. There is also a high chance of experiencing intense dizziness, which can lead to injuries or accidents. Accidental injury is typically linked with the largest number of hits per session. This could indicate that there is a dose-response relationship.
If nitrous oxide is taken regularly, there is a chance of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency. If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to nerve damage causing numbness in extremities, and there is an additional risk of developing paralysis, which can be irreversible and long-lasting.
Although nitrous oxide is not as addictive as other drugs, such as opioids and other euphoric-inducing substances, it can be addictive if used in excess. A regular user can easily become psychologically dependent on the effects of this gas due to its impact on the brain’s functions.
Taking too much nitrous oxide can lead to harmful and unpleasant adverse effects. If you are experiencing any of the following or know of someone who is, it may be time to reach out and ask for support.
Excess nitrous oxide use can cause:
Respiratory depression – Solely used, nitrous oxide has minimal effects on the respiratory system. However, when combined with other sedatives, hypnotics, or opioids, it can potentiate the respiratory depressant effects of the other agents.
Nausea and vomiting – Taking too much nitrous oxide can lead to adverse effects on the digestive system and induce intense feelings of nausea or uncontrollable vomiting in some individuals.
Diffusion hypoxia – After discontinuing nitrous oxide, there is an uneven gradient of gasses in the lungs. If symptoms are not quickly addressed, this can cause a quick dilution of the oxygen in the alveoli. If this occurs, fast action should be taken to administer 100% oxygen through a face mask.
As mentioned previously, excessive abuse of nitrous oxide can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency. This can be extremely dangerous if left untreated, and further symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Having trouble when breathing
- Having a loss of appetite and experiencing bowel and digestive issues
- Experiencing numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes
- Difficulty walking
- Blurred vision
- Having an irregular heartbeat
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after taking nitrous oxide, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Unfortunately, excessive overuse of nitrous oxide abuse can have fatal consequences. If you become unconscious due to nitrous oxide inhalation and medical assistance is not found immediately, your brain may begin to shut down slowly. This can lead to such a severe lack of oxygen that the outcome can be fatal.
Unlike other drugs, nitrous oxide has no extreme physical withdrawal symptoms. However, specific individuals may develop a psychological dependence due to the euphoric state it creates. Depending on the reliance developed, some people may begin to crave the feeling of a high and feel that they need to take it to feel better within themselves. This could cause anxiety or lead to a lack of concentration and persistent thoughts.
Substance addiction treatment is available for NO2 addiction. Depending on the level of the habit, various treatment methods will be offered across addiction centres, including medical assistance, psychological therapies, and other forms of on-site addiction treatment.
One of the leading therapies for nitrous oxide abuse is psychotherapy. Since people addicted to NO2 tend to have more of a psychological dependence than physical dependence, psychological techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could be an option for specific individuals.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you should reach out for support. Having adequate support measures in place and being able to speak openly without judgement will help to assist someone through the recovery process.
At Addcounsel, we offer a number of different addiction treatment services. Contact us today to learn more about our unique and effective services.