|Summary sheet: Nitrous|
|Common names||Nitrous Oxide, Laughing Gas, Nitrous, Hippy Crack, NOS, Nitro, N2O, Nangs|
|Systematic name||Dinitrogen monoxide|
|Chemical class||Nitrogen oxide|
|Routes of Administration|
Nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas, nitrous, NOS; informally as whippets) is an atypical dissociative substance that is found in the form of an inhalable gas. The exact mechanism of action of nitrous oxide is unknown, but it is thought to have an effect on GABA and NMDA receptors in the brain.
Nitrous oxide was first identified in 1772 by the British chemist Joseph Priestly. In the 19th century, it was discovered to have anesthetic properties which made it suitable for dental and surgical procedures. It was given the name "laughing gas" by the British chemist Humphry Davy due to its exhilarating and laughter-inducing effects. Today, it is widely used in surgery and dentistry for its anaesthetic and analgesic effects, and in motorsports for its performance boosting effect on internal combustion engines. Additionally, it has a number of industrial uses and is commonly sold as a whipped cream propellant in kitchen and household stores.
Nitrous is considered to have low to moderate abuse potential and low toxicity when used in moderation. However, frequent and/or chronic use can cause vitamin B12 depletion, which may lead to severe nerve damage. Additionally, improper use puts the user at risk of oxygen deprivation. It is highly advised to use harm reduction practices if using this substance.
History and culture
Nitrous oxide gas was first synthesized in 1772 by English natural philosopher and chemist Joseph Priestley. He published his findings in the book Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1775), describing the synthesis of the gas by heating iron filings dampened with nitric acid. In 1800, Humphry Davy, an assistant at the Pneumatic Institute, published a book about nitrous oxide in 1800. In the book, there is the following passage;
"As nitrous oxide in its extensive operation appears capable of destroying physical pain, it may probably be used with advantage during surgical operations where too great an effusion of blood does not take place."
Davy notes the analgesic effect of nitrous oxide and its potential for use in surgical operations. Davy coined the name "laughing gas" for nitrous oxide. Beginning in 1799, nitrous oxide was used as a recreational drug at "laughing gas parties". They became an immediate success within the British upper class. Despite Davy's discovery of nitrous' potential for anesthesia, doctors did not attempt to use it for nearly half a decade.
The discovery of ether in 1830 led nitrous to fall out of popularity as a recreational drug. It was not until 1844 that American dentist Horace Wells noticed the anesthetic properties of the gas. With the assistance of Gardner Quincy Colton and John Mankey Riggs, he demonstrated insensitivity to pain during a tooth extraction. The practice was not immediately adopted by other dentists, as Wells' first public demonstration had been partly unsuccessful.  In 1863, Gardner Quincy Colton began to administer the gas to patients in all of his "Colton Dental Association" clinics, administering nitrous oxide to over 25,000 patients over three years. This brought the practice into general use.
Nitrous oxide was not found to be a strong enough anesthetic for major surgeries in hospital settings, but it became useful as an initiator for stronger anesthetics like ether or chloroform. Hospitals would initiate treatment with a mild flow of nitrous oxide, and then gradually increase the flow of the stronger anesthetic. This technique of initiating anesthesia is still used in hospitals today.
Nitrous is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.
Nitrous oxide, or dinitrogen monoxide, was first synthesised by heating ammonium nitrate in the presence of iron filings and then passing the gas that came off (NO) through water. Now it is commonly synthesised by gently heating ammonium nitrate to decompose it into nitrous oxide. It is an oxide of nitrogen.
Nitrous has a linear molecular structure. It can be thought as existing in two "resonance structures":
- The central nitrogen atom is triple bonded to the other nitrogen atom and single bonded to the oxygen atom.
- The central nitrogen atom double-bonded to both the other nitrogen atom as well as the oxygen atom.
In practice, the atom will almost exclusively exist in between these two states almost all the time, and the electrons will be delocalised across the molecule. Each of the resonance forms can be thought of as having a positive and negative charge, giving a neutral molecule overall.
Nitrous is used as an oxidiser in rocketry and in motor racing to increase the power output of engines. At elevated temperatures, nitrous oxide is a powerful oxidizer similar to molecular oxygen.
At room temperature, nitrous is a colorless and non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odor and distinctive sweet taste.
Although N2O affects quite a few receptors, its anesthetic, hallucinogenic, and euphoriant effects are likely caused predominantly or fully via its effects as an NMDA receptor antagonist. NMDA receptors allow for electrical signals to pass between neurons in the brain and spinal column; for the signals to pass, the receptor must be open. Dissociatives close the NMDA receptors by blocking them. This disconnection of neurons leads to loss of feeling, difficulty moving, and eventually the famous “hole”.
The pharmacological mechanism of action behind N2O in medicine is not entirely known. However, it has been shown to directly modulate a broad range of receptors and this likely plays a significant role in many of its effects. It moderately blocks β2-subunit-containing nACh channels, weakly inhibits AMPA, kainate, GABAA-rho, and 5-HT3 receptors and slightly potentiates GABAA and glycine receptors. It has also been shown to activate two-pore-domain K+ channels.
Disclaimer: The effects listed below cite the Subjective Effect Index (SEI), an open research literature based on anecdotal user reports and the personal analyses of PsychonautWiki contributors. As a result, they should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism.
It is also worth noting that these effects will not necessarily occur in a predictable or reliable manner, although higher doses are more liable to induce the full spectrum of effects. Likewise, adverse effects become increasingly likely with higher doses and may include addiction, severe injury, or death ☠.
- Spontaneous physical sensations - The nitrous oxide "body high" starts off as the sensation of a diverse mixture of cold, warm, sharp, and soft tingles which begin across the head and face at lower dosages but spread out across the body at higher dosages.
- Changes in felt bodily form - This usually occurs with higher dosages and can be described as feelings that in a non-painful fashion your body's physical form is being stretched into infinity, compressed into a singularity, or split into two separate halves.
- Dizziness - Although uncommon, some people report dizziness under the influence of nitrous.
- Headaches - Although uncommon, a certain subset of people report headaches during the offset of nitrous oxide.
- Motor control loss - A loss of gross and fine motor control alongside balance and coordination is prevalent within nitrous oxide and becomes especially active at higher dosages. This means that one should be sitting down before the onset unless they are experienced in case of falling over and injuring oneself.
- Perception of bodily lightness - This creates the sensation that the body is floating and has become entirely weightless. It is often accompanied by feelings of slowly falling or drifting.
- Physical euphoria - This effect can range between mild pleasure to powerfully all-encompassing bliss. Anecdotal reports show that this sensation, which is taken advantage of by recreational users during sexual activities, can greatly enhance orgasm.
- Tactile suppression - This effect partially to entirely suppresses one's sense of touch, creating feelings of numbness within the extremities. It is responsible for the anesthetic properties of this substance.
- Vitamin deficiency - Repeated doses may induce vitamin B12 deficiency. However, this can be prevented with B12 supplements.
In comparison to other dissociatives such as ketamine or DXM, the visual effects of nitrous oxide are comparatively simplistic. They progressively intensify proportional to dosage and can be broken down into five individual components which are listed and described below.
- Acuity suppression - Blurred vision to the point of all-encompassing blindness is a completely consistent effect within nitrous oxide even at moderate dosages.
- Frame rate suppression - This effect can cause ones visual framerate to lag to such an extent that it can cause one's vision to "pause"
- Double vision - This component is also prevalent at moderate dosages and makes reading incapable unless one closes an eye.
- Pattern recognition suppression - This effect occurs at higher dosages and makes one unable to recognize and interpret perceivable visual data.
- Geometry - Nitrous oxide geometry can be described as unique in its behaviour. It usually only occurs at higher dosages and as a static wall of geometry which appears in front of one's vision alongside the physical sensation of becoming and merging with it. It usually manifests as consistently incidental in its form but varies in its arrangement between people. In terms of its stylistic appearance it can be described as simplistic in complexity, organic in style, unstructured in arrangement, colourful in scheme, glossy in shading, soft and blurred in its edges, large in size, still in movement, rounded corners, immersive in depth, and often based on complex interlocking circles.
- External hallucinations and Internal hallucinations - In comparison to other more classical dissociatives, hallucinations are particularly rare with nitrous but possible at high dosages. They exclusively occur at high levels, are capable of manifesting as both external and internal in style, and are usually delirious in believability (but commonly only include mundane scenarios such as perceiving and talking to people who are not currently present).
- Amnesia - At high dosages, it is often common for one to experience amnesia and memory loss after the experience has occurred. This is especially prevalent alongside ego death.
- Anxiety suppression
- Compulsive redosing
- Déjà vu - Although uncommon and inconsistent, a certain subset of people report strong feelings of deja-vu consistently when under the influence of nitrous oxide.
- Cognitive euphoria - This can be described as feelings of mild to intense happiness and general positivity.
- Analysis suppression
- Increased sense of humor
- Laughter fits - This effect is markedly pronounced with nitrous oxide and can be described as sudden bouts of intense laughter and giggling.
- Memory suppression - At higher dosages, level 3 ego death is an all-encompassing effect within nitrous oxide. In comparison to other hallucinogens, it is unique in style due to its rapid onset and quick comedown. This creates the experience that one's sense of self is rapidly disintegrated and then suddenly re-stacked through a process of regaining one's long-term memory. This is a remarkably identical process every time the experience is undergone.
- Suggestibility enhancement
- Thought deceleration
- Vivid dreams
The auditory effects found with nitrous oxide, although simplistic, are widely known to be particularly intense and consistent in their manifestation when compared to other hallucinogens. These effects include:
- Distortions - These distortions are very powerful and loud enough in their volume to make the original sound completely unrecognizable. They include phasers, white noise, high pitch tones and notes, flanging, changes in pitch, echo effects, and stuttering. In particular, the frequency of the stuttering is proportionally related to the intensity of the effects, especially ego death which occurs when the stuttering becomes continuous.
- Suppression - This effect can be described as a muffling and quieting of externally sourced sound which results in it sounding more indistinct and distant than it would usually be.
- Synaesthesia - This effect is reported to occur most commonly with auditory stimuli, like music translating into visual stimuli within closed eye visuals.
- Unity and interconnectedness - During high dosage states of ego death, this component is a common but inconsistent accompanying effect. It occurs at level 4 - 5 and creates experiences of becoming one with the greater whole. In comparison to other hallucinogens which induce this effect, it can be described as comparatively simpler and less profound due to its more basic accompanying cognitive effects.
- Perception of interdependent opposites - During moderate to high doses, the effect may be described as having insight into the nature of two conflicting ideas, "battling" each other to maintain natural balance.
Nitrous is commonly combined with other hallucinogens for it which it acts as a brief but profound potentiator of their effects.
- Psychedelics - When taken in combination with a psychedelic such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms, the effect will be a sudden and dramatic increase in perceived geometry to its maximum level of 8A or 8B. This is alongside a sudden and dramatic ego death.
- Dissociatives - When taken in combination with a dissociative such as MXE or DXM, the effect will be a sudden and dramatic increase in disconnective effects and the triggering of a sudden internal hallucinatory scenario.
- Cannabis - When taken in combination with cannabis, the overall effects of the nitrous itself are potentiated more so than the cannabis' effects.
- Alcohol - When taken in combination with alcohol, adverse side effects such as confusion, dizziness, and headaches are often significantly increased.
Anecdotal reports which describe the effects of this compound within our experience index include:
- Experience:200 mg of MXP + N2O:20 chargers
- Experience:2mg Etizolam & N2O - "Hippy Crack" Indeed
- Experience:400ug LSD + weed + nitrous -- Fundamental insights into the universe
- Experience:5 tabs LSD + cannabis + nitrous - A lover's ego death
- Experience:Nitrous oxide (approx. 50 puffs) - ~50 puffs nitrous oxide
- Experience:Salvia divinorum (1 gram plain leaf, smoked. Combination with DXM, Nitrous, and Tobacco) - A journey into godhood with Diviner's Sage
- Experience:~6000mg DXM Freebase + 4g's Red Vein Kratom + HHC + Nitrous - Five Days of Disassociation
Additional experience reports can be found here:
- Canned whipped cream - These are found in any grocery store. They contain very minimal gas with one or two uses before the cream comes out.
- Chargers - These are readily available and cheap to purchase online. They are small metal canisters that can be used by a nitrous cracker to fill a balloon full of gas which is then inhaled. Some varieties contain industrial residue and strength vary (as it is food grade).
- Medical tanks - These are hard to find and dangerous without a professional. They are occasionally seen at music festivals being used to fill balloons for sale.
Toxicity and harm potential
Nitrous oxide has been safely used as a mild anesthetic for over 150 years. The exact toxic dosage is unknown. Problems with its use come primarily from carelessness. Potential problems include:
- Brain injury and suffocation can result from lack of oxygen. When used as an anesthetic, nitrous is always administered in combination with oxygen. Never use nitrous in any manner that does not provide for adequate oxygen intake.
- Very cold temperatures of the gas can freeze the lips and throat if taken directly from a tank or whippet. Releasing the gas into a balloon first allows the gas to warm before being administered.
- Nitrous temporarily inhibits methionine synthase, a B12-dependant enzyme responsible for many important functions in the body. Heavy and frequent long-term use can deplete vitamin B12 in the body and lead to serious and unpleasant neurological problems. Users may experience numbness and tingling in the fingers, toes, lips, et al. In more severe cases, there will be numbness of all extremities. Taking B12 supplements, especially in combination with a multivitamin and complete amino acid supplements, may help alleviate this problem. If one experiences these symptoms, nitrous use should be ceased immediately, and if the symptoms persist, medical attention should be sought after.
- Nitric oxide, a toxic industrial gas, is occasionally mistaken for nitrous oxide. Users should be careful they know what they are inhaling. Inhaling Nitric Oxide can permanently damage the lungs or kill.
- The gas from whippets can contain a range of impurities, such as industrial grease left over from manufacturing, and tiny particles of steel from the pierced metal. Users can filter them through a piece of cloth or clothing to reduce the amount of impurities inhaled. Regular cleaning of nitrous dispensing devices can also reduce the harm posed by impurities.
It is strongly recommended that one use harm reduction practices when using this substance.
Dependence and abuse potential
As with other dissociatives, the chronic use of nitrous oxide can be considered mildly addictive with a moderate potential for abuse.
Tolerance to many of the effects of nitrous oxide develops with prolonged and repeated use. This results in users having to administer increasingly large doses to achieve the same effects. After that, it takes about 3 - 7 days for the tolerance to be reduced to half and 1 - 2 weeks to be back at baseline (in the absence of further consumption). Nitrous oxide does not produce cross-tolerance with other dissocatives, meaning that after the use of nitrous oxide other dissociatives will not have a reduced effect.
Warning: Many psychoactive substances that are reasonably safe to use on their own can suddenly become dangerous and even life-threatening when combined with certain other substances. The following list provides some known dangerous interactions (although it is not guaranteed to include all of them).
Always conduct independent research (e.g. Google, DuckDuckGo, PubMed) to ensure that a combination of two or more substances is safe to consume. Some of the listed interactions have been sourced from TripSit.
- Alcohol - Both substances potentiate the ataxia and sedation caused by the other and can lead to unexpected loss of consciousness at high doses. While unconscious, vomit aspiration is a risk if not placed in the recovery position. Memory blackouts are likely.
- GHB - Both substances potentiate the ataxia and sedation caused by the other and can lead to unexpected loss of consciousness at high doses. While unconscious, vomit aspiration is a risk if not placed in the recovery position. Memory blackouts are likely.
- GBL - Both substances potentiate the ataxia and sedation caused by the other and can lead to unexpected loss of consciousness at high doses. While unconscious, vomit aspiration is a risk if not placed in the recovery position. Memory blackouts are likely.
- Opioids - Both substances potentiate the ataxia and sedation caused by the other and can lead to unexpected loss of consciousness at high doses. While unconscious, vomit aspiration is a risk if not placed in the recovery position. Memory blackouts are likely.
- Tramadol - Both substances potentiate the ataxia and sedation caused by the other and can lead to unexpected loss of consciousness at high doses. While unconscious, vomit aspiration is a risk if not placed in the recovery position. Memory blackouts are likely.
This legality section is a stub.
As such, it may contain incomplete or wrong information. You can help by expanding it.
- Germany: Nitrous oxide is not a controlled substance under the BtMG (Narcotics Act) or the NpSG (New Psychoactive Substances Act). It is legal, as long as it is not sold for human consumption, according to §2 AMG. If it is intended for medical use, it is classified as a prescription medicine.
- India: Nitrous oxide is available for general anesthesia purposes. India's gas cylinder rules (1985) permit the transfer of gas from one cylinder to another for breathing purposes.
- New Zealand: Nitrous oxide is a prescription medicine, and its sale or possession without a prescription is an offense under the Medicines Act.
- United Kingdom: It is illegal to supply nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, However "cream chargers" are sold legally.
- United States: Possession of nitrous oxide is legal under federal law and is not subject to DEA purview. It is, however, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act. Prosecution is possible under its "misbranding" clauses, prohibiting the sale or distribution of nitrous oxide for the purpose of human consumption. Many states have laws regulating the possession, sale, and distribution of nitrous oxide. Such laws usually ban distribution to minors or limit the amount of nitrous oxide that may be sold without a special license. For example, in the state of California possession for recreational use is prohibited and qualifies as a misdemeanor.
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