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Laughing Gas: The Funny and the Dark

Laughing Gas: The Funny and the Dark


I’m sure laughing gas has made its way into your life one way or another. There’s thousands of funny compilations of dentist patients reacting to laughing gas. The funniest aspect is the mental confusion that these people experience. 

Despite laughing gas being such depicted as such a lighthearted and goofy anesthesia, there exists a darker side of it. Medically, it’s an effective gas that elicits a goofy reaction, but recreationally, it’s lethal. 


What is Laughing Gas? 

Nitrous oxide(n2o), also known as Laughing Gas or Hippy Crack, is a local sedation anesthesia that eases anxiety or nervous patients. It’s a colorless and odorless gas that relaxes a patient immediately and is safe when temporarily used in medical procedures like wisdom teeth surgery.


The intended effects of laughing gas are: 

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Numbs pain/senses 
  • A strong sense of euphoria 
  • Temporary confusion 


How it Works in a Nutshell

Nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and administered through a mask where a dentist will ask a patient to inhale it through their nose. Nitrous oxide restricts oxygen circulation in the brain and blood which is the reason why patients feel the lightness and giggles. What it does is traps oxygen in the lungs while it prevents it from reaching the brain and blood. 

Deprivation of oxygen to the brain and blood is what makes nitrous oxide a risky gas to ingest. If a patient gets administered too much, it may cause:

  • Headaches
  • Shivering
  • Excessive Sweating 
  • Nausea/Vomiting 
  • Fatigue


In order for a patient to avoid headaches, oxygen must be administered to the patient for 5 minutes after coming off of nitrous oxide. 


A Party Favorite 

Party-goers and young adults can get their hands on a dosage of laughing gas easily. In England, laughing gas is sold as a gas propellant to whip cream in catering shops, but it is illegal to sell it recreationally. With that, they can be found at nightclubs, parties, and festivals as well. 


The United Kingdom cites an alarming number of laughing-gas related deaths every year, the cause of death usually being asphyxiation (due to not oxygen reaching the brain). Other effects involve hallucination, asphyxiation/breathing problems, and burns. 

The metal canisters that the gas is kept in is -40 C, which can cause frostbite to the lips, nose and throat (along with any of the nearby body parts). To counteract this, the gas is released into a balloon to lower the temperature and reduce the pressure before inhaling. 

The euphoric yet extremely short high people experience is an addictive chase despite the physical reparations. 


  • In 2015, nitrous oxide was noted to be the 4th most popular drug for people between the ages of 16 to 24. 
  • 31 people died from nitrous oxide in 2001.
  • From 2010 to 2016, a total of 25 people have passed away due to laughing gas abuse. In 2015, cited deaths related to laughing gas went from 4 to 8 in 2016. 
  • The Crime Survey of England and Wales 2017/2018 recorded that the gas was most prevalent at 2.3% (ages 16 -69) which is roughly 725,000 people.  
  • According to the Australian Trends in Ecstasy and Related Drug Markets 2016 Survey, around one third (36%) of a sample of people who regularly use ecstasy and related drugs reported recent nitrous oxide use in the six months preceding the survey. This is considerably higher than 2015 results (26%). Use was highest in Victoria (62%).10


In response to the laughing gas related deaths throughout the decade, the United Kingdom has banned nitrous oxide recreationally, but it hasn’t been effective as they would have hoped it would be. 


Long Term Effects

Common long-term impacts of prolonged laughing gas abuse: 

  • Memory loss
  • Vitamin B-12 depletion
  • Numbness to the hands and feet
  • Depression
  • Psychological Dependence
  • Weakened Immune System 
  • Limb spasms 
  • Psychosis 
  • Potential Birth Defects (if ingested during pregnancy) 
  • Incontinence 


Mix and Match

Party-goers and festival attendees usually mix drugs with alcohol or with other drugs. In this case, researchers have not found any health related risks in mixing the gas with other drugs or alcohol. But of course, there are physical repercussions. 

Mixing laughing gas with alcohol can cause:

  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of body control
  • Reduced Attention Span/ Concentration
  • Feeling heavy or sluggish

These effects are common with mixing other drugs as well such as marijuana and alcohol. On the other hand, mixing with other drugs like LSD or mushrooms or ketamine can cause an intense disassociation. 


Reduce the Risks

Although it would be wiser to avoid laughing gas as a recreational drug, there will be young adults interested in experimenting with it. Here are some ways to reduce the risks associated with nitrous oxide. 

  • Avoid using it alone or in an isolated area 
  • Don’t use plastic bags or anything that will restrict/prevent your breathing
  • Don’t use near anything inflammable (it’s a gas, it will explode into a fire)
  • Mixing it with alcohol and other drugs (it will heavily impair the user more heavily) 
  • Avoid standing or dancing (person may pass out due to lightness caused by gas) 


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