Updated 25 June 2013

Facts on laughing gas (nitrous oxide)

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a simple gas that, when inhaled, causes rapid analgesia (pain relief), euphoria, mild sedation, and sometimes psychedelic dissociation.


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Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a simple gas that, when inhaled, causes rapid analgesia (pain relief), euphoria, mild sedation, and sometimes psychedelic dissociation. It has been used in dentistry since the mid-1800's and recreationally since the late 1700's when it earned the name "laughing gas" because of its tendency to cause laughter in those who inhale.

Nitrous is most frequently used in the form of whipped cream chargers, small metal cartridges which are "cracked" either into a whipped cream canister or with a special "cracker" into a balloon for inhalation. A single cartridge is between one and three lungs full of gas. One or two lung fulls is generally enough for a short nitrous experience although many people choose to use many cartridges throughout the course of a night.

Nitrous oxide is controlled differerently around the world. A few countries control it as a pharmaceutical, while many allow its possession for food uses without any licensing.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is an extremely simple naturally occurring gas which is produced synthetically for sale.

Nitrous Oxide gas was first discovered by English scientist Joseph Priestley in 1772 and was first published about in 1776. In 1799 Humphry Davy gave Nitrous to visitors at the Pneumatic Institute and coined the term "laughing gas". Through his experiments he discovered Nitrous oxide's analgesic effects in 1800.

From 1800 to 1840, Nitrous was primarily used for recreation at travelling public shows, but in 1844-1845 Nitrous was recognised as having some medical use in dentistry. In the late 1800's William James published some accounts of his work with Nitrous Oxide and called its effects of "some metaphysical significance".

Nitrous has remained popular throughout the 20th Century and is sold over the counter in small cartridges ("whippets") for making whipped cream and in large tanks for industrial and medical purposes.

The Substance: Nitrous Oxide; Nitrous; Laughing Gas; Hippy Crack; N2O.
The Experience:No common terms known.

When inhaled, Nitrous generally reaches full effects within a few seconds.

Effects from a single inhalation of Nitrous Oxide last a few minutes. Most recreational Nitrous use consists of multiple inhalations over a period of time.

Although generaly considered quite safe when used medically and sparingly, it has some negative health consequences when used chronically. Heavy Nitrous use can lead to a depletion of vitamin B12. This can cause numbing of fine nerve endings, especially noticeable in the fingers and toes. Supplements of B12 may reduce the chances of this occurring in heavy users. Shots of B12 are given as a treatment for advanced depletion. If left untreated B12 deficiency can lead to long-term damage.

Most of the acute dangers associated with Nitrous Oxide are related to accidents during ingestion. In medical applications, Nitrous is dispensed in combination with oxygen. Inhaling Nitrous alone is not required to get full effects, the effects are the result of the nitrous in the system, not of oxygen deprivation. It is important for users to take breaths of air between hits.

A handful of people also suffocate each year while using nitrous in the US when the balloon, garbage bag, or mask used to inhale the nitrous stays on the person's face as they fade from consciousness. Some tank-users also suffocate when the valve is left open in a confined space such as a car or small room.

Addiction Potential
Nitrous has gained the nickname "hippy-crack" because it lends itself to repeated and compulsive use for some people. While uncommon, it is not unheard of to find individuals who use Nitrous many times a day, every day, generally among those with easy access to large quantities.

- Article used with the permission of Last modified April 2009.

Erowid caution and disclaimer

This Erowid article is a summary of data gathered from Erowid site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. As this field is complex and constantly changing, information should always be verified through additional sources.

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