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Summary sheet: Nitrous
Skeletal structures of the two resonance structures of a nitrous oxide molecule.
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
Chemical class Inert gas
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.

Light 1/2 of a cartridge (approx. 2 g)
Common 1 - 4 cartridges (4-16 g)
Strong 5 - 6 cartridges (20 - 24 g)
Heavy > 6 cartridges (> 24 g)
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, Balloons, or Whippets[1]) is a widely used inorganic molecule with psychoactive properties. At room temperature, it is as a colorless and non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odor and taste that produces short-lived atypical dissociative and euphoric effects when inhaled.

The gas was first synthesized by English natural philosopher and chemist Joseph Priestley in 1772, who called it phlogisticated nitrous air (see phlogiston).[2] It was first used as an anesthetic drug in the treatment of a patient when dentist Horace Wells demonstrated insensitivity to pain from a dental extraction on 11 December 1844.[3]

It widely used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as "laughing gas" due to the euphoric effects that occur upon inhaling it, a property that has led to its recreational use as an atypical dissociative anesthetic. The duration of these effects is approximately 2 - 5 minutes in length.[citation needed]

It is also used as an oxidizer 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]

The recreational use of nitrous oxide began at "laughing gas parties" primarily arranged for the British upper class in 1799 and has continued into modern times as the gas has become cheaper and more accessible to the masses. Today it is used worldwide by hospitals and dentists alike as a general anesthetic.

Above are nitrous oxide canisters. These are available for purchase on amazon and many other websites. They can be used with whip cream dispensers as an easy and convenient route of administration.


Nitrous oxide, or dinitrogen monoxide, has a linear molecular structure. It comes in two interchanging resonance structures: In one the central nitrogen atom is triple bonded to the other nitrogen atom and single bonded to the oxygen atom. The another form has the central nitrogen atom double bonded to both the other nitrogen atom as well as the oxygen atom. Both forms create formal charges on two of the atoms, which neutralize over the molecule. It was first synthesized by heating ammonium nitrate in the presence of iron filings and then passing the gas that came off (NO) through the water. Now it is commonly synthesized by gently heating ammonium nitrate to decompose it into nitrous oxide. It is an oxide of nitrogen.


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.[4][5] 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.[6][7] It has also been shown to activate two-pore-domain K+ channels.[8]

Subjective effects

The effects listed below are based upon the subjective effects index and personal experiences of PsychonautWiki contributors. The listed 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 and are more likely to induce 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

Experience reports

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

Additional experience reports can be found here:


One of the most interesting applications for nitrous oxide is not use by itself but in combination with other hallucinogens for it which it acts as a brief but profound potentiator of their subjective effects.

  • Psychedelics - When taken in combination with a classical psychedelic such as LSD or psilocin, 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 classical 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.

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 NMDA receptor antagonists, the chronic use of nitrous oxide can be considered mildly addictive with a low 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 presents cross-tolerance with no other psychoactive substances, 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.

  • United States - Possession of nitrous oxide is legal under federal law and is not subject to DEA purview.[10] 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.[11]
  • New Zealand - The Ministry of Health has warned that nitrous oxide is a prescription medicine, and its sale or possession without a prescription is an offence under the Medicines Act. [12] This statement would seemingly prohibit all non-medicinal uses of the chemical, though it is implied that only recreational use will be legally targeted.
  • India - For general anesthesia purposes, nitrous oxide is available as Nitrous Oxide IP. India's gas cylinder rules (1985) permit the transfer of gas from one cylinder to another for breathing purposes. This law benefits remote hospitals which would otherwise suffer as a result of India's geographic immensity.

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. "Effects of gaseous anesthetics nitrous oxide and xenon on ligand-gated ion channels. Comparison with isoflurane and ethanol" -
  5. Advances in understanding the actions of nitrous oxide -
  6. "Effects of gaseous anesthetics nitrous oxide and xenon on ligand-gated ion channels. Comparison with isoflurane and ethanol" -
  7. Effect of nitrous oxide on excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in hippocampal cultures" -
  8. Two-pore-domain K+ channels are a novel target for the anesthetic gasses xenon, nitrous oxide, and cyclopropane -
  9. Anecdotal reports of sex in combination with nitrous oxide -
  10. "US Nitrous Oxide Laws (alphabetically) Based on a search of online free legal databases. Conducted May 2002" -
  11. CAL. PEN. CODE § 381b : California Code - Section 381b -
  12. Time's up for sham sales of laughing gas -