Why is It Called Laughing Gas?

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Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is an inhalation sedation used as an anesthetic to sedate patients and prevent pain. Nitrous Oxide is an oxide of nitrogen, co-administered with oxygen. The gas is usually a blend of 70% oxygen and 30% Nitrous Oxide. Nitrous Oxide is most commonly used as an anesthetic in dental offices, but can used by other healthcare professionals. This odorless and colorless gas suppresses the central nervous system and creates a sense of euphoria in the patient.

The reason Nitrous Oxide is sometimes referred to as “laughing gas” or “happy gas” is because some people can get a case of the “giggles” when they begin feeling the effects of the gas. Nitrous Oxide slows the nervous system so rational inhibitions become slightly reduced and thinking becomes a little slower. This in conjunction with feelings of euphoria can cause a person to laugh, but not everyone laughs. Most people experience tingling or vibrating feelings, warm sensations, a sense of euphoria or floating, and sleepy or drowsiness. In very few people they become dizzy or nauseated. Usually if the gas is given in increments, and not too much, these side effects will not be a problem.

To administer Nitrous Oxide, the dentist places a “nasal hood” over the patient’s nose. The nasal hood is connected to a tube where the gas is fed in. The dentist has full control over the amount of the gas, and the gas is usually given to the patient in increments, allowing them to ease into the effects of the gas to a comfortable level.

Nitrous Oxide was first discovered in 1772 by Joseph Priestle who first called it “phlogisticated nitrous air.” It was not until 1844 that the gas was used as an anesthetic. Dentist Horace Wells, along with Gardner Quincy Cotton and John Mankey Riggs, first used Nitrous Oxide as a sedation method in Hartford and it came into general use as an anesthetic in 1863.

There are actually many benefits to Nitrous Oxide as an anesthetic and sedation method. First, Nitrous Oxide works within five minutes of administration, so there is no waiting. Second, the doctor can alter the depth of sedation, so there is no fear of overdosing. Third, the gas is easily turned on and off and given in incremental doses, so patients can comfortably ease into the sensation. Finally, there is no “hangover” feeling. Nitrous Oxide is a safe choice that requires no injections or pills to take, making it a great options for both children and adults.

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