What is Nitrous oxide?

Inhalation sedation, laughing gas, relative analgesia, RA, happy gas, gas and air, nitrous, nitrous oxide, N2O-O2… this one has more names than any other sedation technique! And deservedly so. Inhalation sedation with nitrous oxide (N2O) and oxygen (O2) has been described as “representing the most nearly ‘ideal’ clinical sedative circumstance”…

What is it? And what does it do?

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is simply a gas which you can breathe in. It has no color, smell, and doesn’t irritate. It was discovered in 1772. Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), one of the pioneers of N2O experimentation, described the effects of N2O on himself following self-administration for a toothache and gum infection as follows:

“On the day when the inflammation was the most troublesome, I breathed three large doses of nitrous oxide. The pain always diminished after the first four or five inspirations; the thrilling came on as usual, and uneasiness was for a few minutes swallowed up in pleasure.”

Sounds like fun!! The extract above pretty much summarizes the effects of nitrous oxide: it kills pain – and it induces a pleasurable feeling. After 5 minutes or so of breathing in the gas, you should feel a euphoric feeling spread throughout your body. It really kind of feels like a ‘happy drunk’ feeling. Some people find that there are auditory or visual effects as well. You will feel a bit light headed and often people get ‘the giggles’ (hence the name laughing gas!).Photo of a mask used for administering nitrous oxide As an interesting aside, nitrous oxide was one of the drugs of choice for young people in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when laughing gas demonstrations were a popular source of entertainment and enjoyment.

First-hand accounts of Relative Analgesia

“I started feeling warm all over. The elevator-type music they had on was starting to all sound the same and I could have sworn that they were looping the same song over and over and over. I remember somewhat the dentist coming in and telling me that this is going to be a “Three Martini Cleaning” and asked me if I preferred Strawberry Daiquiri or Pina Colada. The taste of Pina Colada filled my gums and then I saw the needle with the local anesthesia for a second, but he must have decided not to use it because I seriously didn’t feel anything. I was already under a nice level buzz from the N20 and I could feel myself relaxing into the chair — the drugs were finally kicking in. The Pina Colada taste in my mouth made me start thinking of previous Caribbean vacations…”

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