bolt, bullets, climax, locker room, rush, poppers,
snappers. Nitrous oxide is a mild anesthetic that is inhaled to produce a
euphoric rush followed by a reduction of pain and inhibitions and finally,
Nitrous oxide was first synthesized in the 1700s
as a colorless, almost odorless gas with great anesthetic and pain-relieving
properties. The term "laughing gas" was coined because of the giddy state it
produced. The gas is also used as a propellant in food aerosols. It is
prepared by the action of zinc on dilute nitric acid, by the action of
hydroxylamine hydrochloride (NH2OHxHCl) on sodium nitrite
(NaNO2), and, most commonly, by the decomposition of ammonium
When inhaled, Nitrous oxide produces insensibility to
pain preceded by mild hysteria, sometimes laughter.
Nitrous oxide has little effects on body functions such as
respiration, brain blood flow, and liver, kidney and gastrointestinal
The pharmacological mechanisms of nitrous oxide are not
fully understood. It acts like a general anesthetic and under high pressure,
can cause a loss of consciousness. Hence, experts suspect that it may increase
GABA inhibition of nerve cells. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that
prevents the pre-synaptic cells from transmitting. Part of its effect may also
be through the brain's built in opiate system, the same receptors that morphine
and heroin activate.
There three dangers that recreational users most commonly
face: First, nitrous oxide is an anesthetic gas that can make the user
unconscious or so disoriented that one loses good judgement. Problems occur
when the user attempts to arrange a sort of mask or bag to deliver pure gas and
breathe only nitrous oxide. The person is then asphyxiated by lack of oxygen.
Second, there is physical damage to any tissues exposed to an expanding gas.
If users try to inhale the gas right out of the tank with no regulation of the
flow rate, they can actually injure their mouths, tracheas and lungs from the
cooling gas. Also, there is a risk of overexpanding the lungs. Finally,
prolonged nitrous oxide use can lead to a complication that is similar to a
vitamin B-12 deficiency. A B-12 dependent enzyme is deactivated by nitrous
oxide, leading to the destruction of nerve fibers or loss of feeling.
drug warriors ·
$400bn business ·
Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder and Wilkie Wilson. Buzzed : the straight facts about the most used and abused drugs
from alcohol to ecstasy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.
portions reprinted from:
"nitrous oxide" Britannica.com. Vers. 2001
1999-2001. Encyclopædia Britannica.
1 Sep. 2000
npr reports ·
teacher's guide ·
tapes & transcripts ·
pbs online ·
web site copyright 1995-2013 WGBH educational foundation.