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Summary sheet: Nitrous
Nitrous Oxide.svg
Chemical Nomenclature
Common names Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, nitrous, hippy crack, NOS, nitro, N2O,
Systematic name Nitrous oxide
Class Membership
Psychoactive class Dissociative
Routes of Administration

WARNING: Always start with lower doses due to differences between individual body weight, tolerance, metabolism, and personal sensitivity. See responsible use section.

Threshold 4 g
Light 4 - 8 g (1/2 - 1 cartridges)
Common 8 - 16 g (1 - 2 cartridges)
Strong 16 - 40 g (2 - 5 cartridges)
Heavy 40 g + (>5 cartridges)
Total 1 - 5 minutes
Onset 0 - 1 minutes
Peak 15 - 30 seconds
Offset 1 - 5 minutes
After effects 15 - 30 minutes

DISCLAIMER: PW's dosage information is gathered from users and resources for educational purposes only. It is not a recommendation and should be verified with other sources for accuracy.

Nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas, nitrous, NOS, or whippets[1]) is a gas that produces short-lived dissociative and euphoric effects when inhaled.

Nitrous oxide was first identified in 1772 by British chemist Joseph Priestly.[2] In the 19th century, it was discovered to have anesthetic properties which made it suitable for dental and surgical procedures.[3] It was given the name "laughing gas" by the British chemist Humphry Davy due to its exhilarating and laughter-inducing effects. The recreational use of nitrous has its origins in "laughing gas parties" which were held to demonstrate these properties to Davy's friends.

Today, nitrous oxide is widely used in surgery and dentistry for its anaesthetic and analgesic effects. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.[4] It is also sold as a whipped cream propellant in kitchen and household stores.

Nitrous is considered to have low toxicity when used in moderation. However, chronic use can cause vitamin B12 depletion, which may lead to severe nerve damage.[5] Additionally, improper use puts the user at risk of oxygen deprivation.

Above are nitrous oxide canisters. They can be used with whip cream dispensers as a quick and convenient route of administration.


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.[6] 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.[citation needed]

At room temperature, nitrous is a colorless and non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odor and distinctive sweet taste.


Further information: NMDA receptor antagonist

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.[7][8] 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, GABAC, and 5-HT3 receptors and slightly potentiates GABAA and glycine receptors.[9][10] It has also been shown to activate two-pore-domain K+ channels.[11]

Subjective effects

The effects listed below are based upon the subjective effects index and personal experiences of PsychonautWiki contributors. These effects should be taken with a grain of salt and will rarely (if ever) occur all at once, but heavier doses will increase the chances of inducing a full range of effects. Likewise, adverse effects become much more likely on higher doses and may include serious injury or death.

Physical effects

Visual effects

Cognitive effects

Auditory effects

Multi-sensory effects

Transpersonal effects

Combinational effects

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.

Experience reports

Anecdotal reports which describe the effects of this compound within our experience index include:

Additional experience reports can be found here:

Available forms

  • 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 which 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.
  • Heavy and frequent long-term nitrous use can deplete vitamin B12 in the body and lead to serious and unpleasant neurological problems. Users may experience numbness and tingle 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.

It is strongly recommended that one use harm reduction practices when using this substance.

Tolerance and addiction 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.

Legal status


This legality section is a stub.

As such, it may contain incomplete or wrong information. You can help by expanding it.

  • 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.[citation needed]
  • New Zealand: Nitrous oxide is a prescription medicine, and its sale or possession without a prescription is an offense under the Medicines Act.[citation needed]
  • United States: Possession of nitrous oxide is legal under federal law and is not subject to DEA purview.[13] It is, however, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act. A 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 special license. For example, in the state of California possession for recreational use is prohibited and qualifies as a misdemeanor.[14]

See also

External links



  1. Tarendash, Albert S. (2001). Let's review: chemistry, the physical setting (3rd ed.). Barron's Educational Series. p. 44. ISBN 0-7641-1664-9. -
  2. Keys, T.E. (1941). "The Development of Anesthesia." Anesthesiology 2 (5): 552–574. Bibcode:1982AmSci..70..522D. doi:10.1097/00000542-194109000-00008. -
  3. Erving, H. W. (1933). "The Discoverer of Anæsthesia: Dr. Horace Wells of Hartford". The Yale journal of Biology and Medicine 5 (5): 421–430. PMC 2606479. PMID 21433572 -
  4. "WHO Model List of Essential Medicines 20th List (March 2017)" (PDF). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. March 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  5. Flippo, T. S., & Holder, W. D. (1993). Neurologic degeneration associated with nitrous oxide anesthesia in patients with vitamin B12 deficiency. Archives of Surgery, 128(12), 1391-1395.
  7. "Effects of gaseous anesthetics nitrous oxide and xenon on ligand-gated ion channels. Comparison with isoflurane and ethanol" -
  8. Advances in understanding the actions of nitrous oxide -
  9. "Effects of gaseous anesthetics nitrous oxide and xenon on ligand-gated ion channels. Comparison with isoflurane and ethanol" -
  10. Effect of nitrous oxide on excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in hippocampal cultures" -
  11. Two-pore-domain K+ channels are a novel target for the anesthetic gasses xenon, nitrous oxide, and cyclopropane -
  12. Anecdotal reports of sex in combination with nitrous oxide -
  13. "US Nitrous Oxide Laws (alphabetically) Based on a search of online free legal databases. Conducted May 2002" -
  14. CAL. PEN. CODE § 381b : California Code - Section 381b -