Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is a colourless, sweet-smelling gas with psychoactive properties. Its discovery dates back to the late 18th century when chemist Joseph Priestley first identified it in 1772.
How you might feel
Nitrous oxide induces feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and dissociation. Users may experience altered perceptions, hallucinations, and fits of laughter.
Effects on your body
Nitrous oxide can cause oxygen deprivation, leading to loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and potential brain damage. Prolonged use can impair judgment, leading to accidents and injuries.
How long it takes to work
Nitrous oxide’s effects are rapid, kicking in within seconds of inhalation.
How long the effects last
The effects of nitrous oxide are short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. However, continuous use can extend the duration of its effects.
Abusing nitrous oxide can lead to oxygen deprivation, brain damage, and accidents. Psychological addiction can occur with repeated use.
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is a colourless, sweet-smelling gas with psychoactive properties. Its discovery dates back to the late 18th century when chemist Joseph Priestley first identified it in 1772.1 However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that it gained widespread recognition for its anaesthetic properties.4
The effects of nitrous oxide are primarily centred around feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perceptions. Upon inhalation, users often experience fits of laughter, leading to the nickname “laughing gas”. Its recreational use has become popular at social gatherings and parties, where small cartridges (whippets) are used to inhale the gas, often in combination with balloons to enhance the effects.1
While nitrous oxide can induce pleasurable sensations, it also poses significant risks to users. Prolonged use or inhaling large amounts can lead to oxygen deprivation, resulting in loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and potential brain damage.2 Mixing nitrous oxide with other substances, especially depressants like alcohol, can further amplify the risks and may lead to respiratory depression or overdose.
Due to its popularity and growing usage, some countries are considering regulating its sale to minors. For instance, France has contemplated banning the sale of laughing gas to minors in response to the increasing concern over its recreational misuse.3
Overall, while nitrous oxide has legitimate medical applications, its recreational use should be approached with caution. Responsible use, proper understanding of dosage, and awareness of potential risks are essential for harm reduction.
How it looks, tastes and smells
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas,” is a colourless and odourless gas in its pure form. It is typically contained in small metal canisters or cartridges when used for recreational purposes. These canisters may vary in size but are often small and easy to transport.1
Nitrous oxide itself does not have a taste. When inhaled directly from a canister, users may not notice any taste. However, some users may report experiencing a slightly sweet taste if they use a balloon to capture the gas before inhalation.
Pure nitrous oxide is also odourless, meaning it does not have any discernible smell. As it lacks taste and smell, people may not be aware of its presence unless they inhale it.
- Minimum to feel something (mg): The minimum dosage to feel the effects of nitrous oxide can vary depending on individual tolerance and sensitivity. However, it is important to note that even small amounts of the gas can have significant effects, and misuse can lead to health risks.1
- Low dose: A low dose of nitrous oxide can range from around 50 milligrams to 100 milligrams.
- Common dose: The common dose of nitrous oxide typically ranges from 100 milligrams to 200 milligrams.
- High dose: Higher doses of nitrous oxide can be around 200 milligrams or more, but it is essential to exercise caution as larger quantities can lead to serious adverse effects.
Notes on what may happen when exceeding the high dose:
- Increased Risks: Consuming a high dose of nitrous oxide can lead to a significant increase in risks associated with its use, including potential adverse effects on physical and mental health.2
- Rapid Onset: Nitrous oxide typically has a rapid onset of action, and its effects are usually felt within seconds after inhalation.1
- Intensified Euphoria: Exceeding the recommended dose may intensify the euphoric and pleasurable feelings associated with nitrous oxide use.4
- Heightened Distortions: Higher doses can lead to more pronounced distortions of perception, causing altered sensory experiences and hallucinations.1
- Profound Disconnection: Users may experience a profound sense of detachment from reality, leading to disconnection from their surroundings.4
- Prolonged Duration: The duration of effects may be extended when taking an excessive dose, leading to prolonged intoxication and possible delayed recovery.
- Impaired Coordination: High doses of nitrous oxide can cause impaired motor skills and coordination, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.
- Potential for Unconsciousness: In extreme cases, exceeding the high dose may result in loss of consciousness, which can be dangerous, particularly in uncontrolled environments.
How you might feel
When taking nitrous oxide, users commonly report a range of effects. These include a sense of euphoria, relaxation, and an altered state of consciousness. Many users describe feeling detached from their surroundings and experiencing heightened pleasure. 4 Additionally, some individuals may encounter mild hallucinations and distortions of perception, which contribute to the drug’s recreational appeal.1
Effects on your body
Nitrous oxide can cause oxygen deprivation, leading to loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and potential brain damage. Prolonged use can impair judgement, leading to accidents and injuries.
How do people take it?
Nitrous oxide is commonly inhaled to produce its desired effects. It is usually taken by inhaling the gas through a balloon or a small canister, often called “whippets”.
How long it takes to work
The effects of nitrous oxide typically have a rapid onset, and users often feel the drug’s effects within seconds after inhalation.1 This quick onset is one of the reasons why nitrous oxide is commonly used recreationally for its rapid and short-lasting euphoric effects. However, it is essential to be cautious about the dosage and use of nitrous oxide to avoid potential risks and adverse effects associated with its rapid action.
How long the effects last
The effects of nitrous oxide are typically short-lived. After inhalation, the immediate sensations can last for a few minutes, with the peak effects usually subsiding within 1 to 2 minutes.4 However, residual effects and disorientation may persist shortly after use.
Taking nitrous oxide can pose several risks, particularly when misused or abused. Overdosing on the gas can lead to oxygen deprivation, causing loss of consciousness, dizziness, and potential harm to organs.2 Furthermore, inhaling nitrous oxide directly from canisters or in excessive quantities can result in frostbite and other physical injuries.1
Nitrous oxide is not considered highly addictive on its own, but problematic use may occur in some individuals. While the drug does not have the same addictive potential as substances like opioids or stimulants, regular and frequent use can lead to psychological dependence.1 Individuals may develop a habit of seeking the pleasurable effects of nitrous oxide and prioritise its use over other aspects of their lives, which can lead to social, occupational, and health-related issues.
The Law in the UK
In the United Kingdom, nitrous oxide is classified as a psychoactive substance under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.1 This legislation makes it illegal to produce, supply, or sell nitrous oxide for recreational use. As of 8 November 2023, possession of nitrous oxide itself for recreational purposes is illegal, and nitrous oxide has become a class C drug in the United Kingdom. However, it is still used for legitimate purposes in medical settings and food industry applications.
According to the UK Government’s drug penalties, the possession of a psychoactive substance, including nitrous oxide, with the intent to supply is considered a criminal offence. Offenders may face up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Combining nitrous oxide with other drugs can be risky and lead to potential adverse effects. Some notable interactions include:
- Alcohol: Mixing nitrous oxide with alcohol can result in increased impairment and respiratory depression. Both substances are central nervous system depressants and can lead to breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness.1
- Opioids: Combining nitrous oxide with opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, can intensify their sedative effects, increasing the risk of respiratory depression and overdose.
- Sedatives and Benzodiazepines: Nitrous oxide should not be used in conjunction with other sedatives or benzodiazepines, as it can cause excessive drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired motor function.
- Stimulants: Mixing nitrous oxide with stimulants, like cocaine or amphetamines, can mask the sedative effects of nitrous oxide and increase the risk of overdose due to reduced perception of drug-related impairment.
- DrugWise. (2017). Nitrous Oxide. https://www.drugwise.org.uk/nitrous-oxide/)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). DrugFacts: Inhalants. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/inhalants)
- Connexion France May Ban ’Laughing Gas’ sale to minors as usage grows 2020. https://www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/France-may-ban-laughing-gas-sale-to-minors-as-usage-grows)
- Emmanouil, D. E. and Quock, R. M. (2007). Advances in understanding the actions of nitrous oxide. Anaesthesia Progress, 54(1), pp. 9–18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1821132/)
- UK Government. (2021). Drug penalties. https://www.gov.uk/penalties-drug-possession-dealing)
What people ask
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas,” is a colourless and odourless gas with psychoactive effects. It is used for medical purposes as an anaesthetic and analgesic agent and is also commonly abused for recreational purposes.
Nitrous oxide is typically inhaled through the mouth, often using a small cartridge (whippet) or a balloon filled with the gas. It is commonly used in whipped cream dispensers and can be inhaled directly or transferred into another container for inhalation.
Nitrous oxide induces euphoria, relaxation, and dissociation from one’s surroundings. Users may experience hallucinations, altered perceptions, and a sense of floating or weightlessness. It is called “laughing gas” because it can also lead to fits of laughter.
The effects of nitrous oxide are typically short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. However, repeated inhalation or continuous use can prolong the duration of its effects.
Nitrous oxide abuse carries several risks, including oxygen deprivation, as the gas can displace oxygen in the lungs. This can lead to loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and potential brain damage. The gas’s psychoactive effects can also impair judgement, leading to accidents and injuries.
While nitrous oxide itself may not be highly addictive, repeated use and dependence on its euphoric effects can lead to problematic use. Psychological addiction can occur, where individuals crave the euphoria and escape provided by the drug.
In the UK, nitrous oxide is classified as a psychoactive substance under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Its sale for recreational use is illegal, but possession is not currently an offence.
Yes, nitrous oxide is a safe and effective anaesthetic when used in medical settings by trained professionals. It is commonly used for dental procedures and in childbirth to manage pain.
Signs of nitrous oxide abuse may include empty whipped cream chargers or balloons, chemical or sweet odour in the environment, and frequent use of slang terms related to the drug.
Yes, mixing nitrous oxide with other substances, particularly alcohol and other depressants, can be hazardous and increase the risk of respiratory depression and overdose.