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Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas): Uses, Side Effects & Safety

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, serves as a sedative employed by healthcare providers to ensure patient comfort during medical procedures. This colorless and delicately sweet-smelling gas is inhaled through a nosepiece. Unlike alternative sedation methods, individuals can resume driving shortly after undergoing nitrous oxide administration.




What is Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)?


Nitrous oxide (N2O), often referred to as laughing gas, is a short-acting sedative. It is a colorless gas with a faintly sweet smell that is administered through a mask or nosepiece.


Medical professionals, including physicians and dentists, have utilized nitrous oxide since the mid-19th century, and it remains one of the most prevalent inhaled sedatives in use today. Its rapid onset and quick dissipation make it an excellent choice for sedation during brief or minor medical procedures.


What are the effects of laughing gas?


Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, works by slowing down the nervous system, creating a feeling of calm and euphoria. It alleviates anxiety and promotes comfort during medical or dental procedures while allowing you to remain conscious and responsive to your provider's questions or instructions.


Contrary to its name, laughing gas may not necessarily induce laughter for everyone; individual responses vary.


Nitrous oxide takes effect quickly. Within three to five minutes, you might feel:






Mildly euphoric.


Tingling in your arms and legs.

Heaviness, like you’re sinking deeper into the exam chair or table.


Who should avoid nitrous oxide sedation?


Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is a generally safe sedation option for both children and adults in medical and dental settings. However, it may not be suitable for children under the age of 2 and individuals with the following conditions:


1. Certain respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

2. Nasal congestion (stuffy nose).

3. Vitamin B12 deficiency.

4. Severe psychiatric conditions.


To determine if nitrous oxide sedation is appropriate for you, consult with your healthcare provider.


Nitrous Oxide, N2O Specialty Gas

Procedure Details


What should I expect if I’m getting laughing gas?


Before your procedure, your healthcare provider will engage in a discussion with you, addressing any questions you may have. They will request your signature on a consent form to authorize the administration of nitrous oxide.


During the procedure:


1. A mask will be placed over your nose and mouth. (For dental procedures, a smaller mask covering only your nose may be used.)

2. The provider will open a tank valve, allowing a controlled mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen to flow into the mask, starting with a low dose to gauge your response.

3. Dosage adjustments will be made until the desired effects are achieved.

4. The procedure will be conducted, often accompanied by the application of local anesthesia before commencement, as nitrous oxide reduces pain but may not eliminate it entirely. It is common to combine it with other forms of anesthesia.

5. The flow of laughing gas will be halted upon completion of the procedure.

6. You will be asked to breathe in pure oxygen through the mask until you regain alertness.

7. The mask will be removed from your face.

8. A brief monitoring period will follow before you are released to go home.


Feeling a bit nervous is normal, especially if it's your first experience with laughing gas. The positive aspect is that you can communicate any undesirable side effects to your provider. If sensations of dizziness or nausea arise, your provider can easily adjust the dosage to ensure your comfort.


How long does laughing gas last?


The impact of nitrous oxide persists until your provider ceases the gas flow. Following this, it typically takes about 5 to 10 minutes for the sedative to exit your system, allowing your mental state to return to normal. Given the short-acting nature of nitrous oxide, you can resume driving shortly after your procedure.


What are the advantages of nitrous oxide?


The primary benefit of laughing gas is its ability to alleviate anxiety, particularly for individuals who harbor fears related to medical or dental procedures. By mitigating anxiety, nitrous oxide facilitates access to necessary care that individuals might otherwise avoid.


Additional advantages of nitrous oxide include:


1. Fast-acting: The effects take hold quickly.

2. Short-acting: Once the gas flow is halted by your provider, you return to your usual state within minutes. This quick reversal can be advantageous if you find the effects of nitrous oxide undesirable.

3. Easy administration: Nitrous oxide can be administered without the need for needles.

4. Safety and effectiveness: It is a safe and effective sedation option when administered in a healthcare setting.


What are the possible complications of nitrous oxide in a dental or medical setting?


Nitrous oxide, when administered under the supervision of a healthcare provider, does not typically lead to long-term complications. However, repeated exposure to nitrous oxide, especially during multi-phase dental treatments, may result in vitamin B12 deficiency. If you anticipate multiple appointments involving laughing gas, it's advisable to consult your provider about the potential need for a vitamin B12 supplement.


Temporary side effects of nitrous oxide that some individuals may experience include:


1. Headaches

2. Nausea and vomiting

3. Agitation


These side effects are transient and subside once the nitrous oxide exits your system.

Nitrous Oxide, N2O Specialty Gas