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What is Nitrous Oxide?
Nitrous oxide, buzz bomb, whippet, Nos, hippy crack, N2O, nitro, or laughing gas is a colorless, transparent gas. It has a faint, pleasant odor and a slightly sweetish taste.
There are various grades of nitrous oxide. The ones we use are food-grade and medical-grade nitrous oxide. Food-grade N2O has a lower level of purity compared to medical-grade nitrous oxide. Culinary-grade N2O isn’t quite as clean as the gas that is used at the dentist’s office.
When nitrous oxide is compressed into a cartridge, cylinder, or tank it becomes a liquid. A cylinder that is full of nitrous oxide usually reads a pressure of around 750 PSI on the gauges. The cylinder will maintain this reading until almost all the N2O is ejected.
The Popularity of Nitrous Oxide as a Recreational Drug
Nitrous oxide has been in use for more than 200 years. But its popularity has risen rapidly since 2010, especially in some European countries. Lots of empty food-grade N2O cylinders (both small and large) litter carnivals and streets.
The popularity of N2O is mainly attributed to its low price and easy availability in online and local stores. Recreational users grow fond of the gas every day due to its short-lived feelings of calmness, relaxation, and euphoria. Recreational users considered nitrous oxide or laughing gas to be a socially acceptable and relatively safe drug.
People use balloons to inhale N2O, which is somewhat easy to do. There are also several video tutorials online demonstrating how easy it is to fill a balloon with nitrous oxide using a Nos cracker and cream chargers. Most users start with small N2O cartridges and slowly graduate to larger cylinders or tanks.
Despite its popularity, it’s only a fraction of the population that uses the gas recreationally. Most people try as much as possible to inhale nitrous oxide responsibly. But recreational use of the gas isn’t risk-free.
Methods of Administration
The method of administration depends on the use – medical or recreational.
One of the options available for pain relief and calmness during dental procedures is a combination of nitrous oxide and oxygen. The laughing gas is administered by a nose mask before a dental procedure begins. A patient is required to inhale nitrous oxide to feel its effects. It’s considered safe for patients of all ages. Patients tend to feel calmer and more relaxed. Some patients may experience feelings of giddiness or euphoria. Patients remain awake after the administration of nitrous oxide and are usually capable of thinking rationally.
People who use nitrous oxide recreationally don’t have access to the unique method of administration used by dentists. So, they settle for the next best thing – nitrous oxide balloons. They use either a Nos cracker or a whipped cream dispenser to inject nitrous oxide gas into balloons. The Nos cracker technique is the most common one, which is also easy to master. Nitrous oxide balloons not only normalize the pressure of N2O but also warm it for added safety against frostbite.
Immediate Effects of Nitrous Oxide
When inhaled, nitrous oxide induces a feeling of giddiness or euphoria (a floating or dreamy sensation) and a mild pain-free state for a few seconds. Recreational users may also experience lightheadedness and dizziness if oxygen levels in the body drop significantly. It’s also possible to experience dissociation depending on the user and the dosage. Some of the immediate effects may be safe but the feeling could change with lack of oxygen. So, it’s wise to use the buddy system when inhaling nitrous oxide to get high. This ensures there is someone nearby to observe how nitrous oxide is affecting you and to call for help in case you lose consciousness.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
When administered by a dentist, nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen to make it safer for inhalation. But recreational users inhale pure nitrous oxide via balloons. There is no safe level when inhaling N2O via balloons. That’s why there are potential risks and side effects of inhaling nitrous oxide.
Aside from feelings of euphoria, giddiness, uncontrollable laughter, and sedation, other immediate effects of inhaling laughing gas may be concerning. Such effects may include but are not limited to:
- Numbness of the body
- Tiredness and weakness
- Uncoordinated movements
- Blurred vision
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Heart attack
- Sudden death
According to research, prolonged inhalation of nitrous oxide without enough oxygen may damage the nervous system. Addicts may suffer serious personality and mood changes along with bone marrow damage.
Inhaling hippy crack rapidly causes loss of motor control. So, anyone who breathes it while standing may fall and get injured. The only truly safe positions for inhaling the gas are sitting or lying down. Laughing gas should not be inhaled when operating any type of machinery or when driving.
The Dangers of Nitrous Oxide Abuse
Inhaling nitrous oxide recreationally causes a feeling of euphoria and happiness. However, medical experts are warning of the rising dangers of nitrous oxide abuse.
The adverse side effects and consequences of abusing nitrous oxide can be severe. Affected people usually have problems with motor control and balancing. Some people may be unable to walk independently from one point to another.
Abusing nitrous oxide may cause irreversible neurological problems. Those who are adversely affected may fail to have sensations on certain parts of their bodies, such as from the waist to the toes. The gas could do serious damage to the nervous system.
Young people who are not well-informed about the dangers of nitrous oxide can easily abuse the gas. When filling a balloon, recreational users may assume that one nitrous oxide cartridge isn’t enough. This way, they end up charging a balloon with excess nitrous oxide. Too much N2O in the lungs may lead to oxygen deprivation and its undesirable side effects.
Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and in rare cases death. Prolonged and excessive inhalation of laughing gas can lead to B12 deficiency, which can be the root cause of nerve damage and anemia.
How people use nitrous oxide recreationally can also put them in danger. For example, inhaling hippy crack directly from an N2O canister can cause frostbite and possible lung damage due to the high-pressure level of nitrous oxide escaping the cylinder.
The immediate effects of nitrous oxide last only a short time. Those who misuse N2O may want to feel high now and then. This may cause psychological dependence as well as addiction. In worst-case scenarios, abusers and addicts may suffer cognitive impairments, anxiety, and depression.
Moreover, the dangers of abusing nitrous oxide may magnify when mixed with other substances like medications and alcohol. The effects may be unpredictable.
Nitrous Oxide and Legal Considerations
The legality of nitrous oxide differs from one country to another. It’s considered legal in some places and can even be bought online for use in food preparation. But the law seems to restrict the use of nitrous oxide to get high.
Some countries across the globe consider nitrous oxide or laughing gas to be a controlled substance for non-medical applications. The sale, possession, and distribution may also be considered illegal. So, when people are under the influence of nitrous oxide they may be considered to be publically intoxicated.
Those who inhale laughing gas should also be concerned about ethical and health implications. Although some young people may not be well-informed about the dangers of inhaling nitrous oxide.
Harm Reduction and Safe Use Guidelines
As we mentioned before, there is no safe level when inhaling nitrous oxide recreationally. So, it’s extremely important to take the following harm reduction measures and safety guidelines into consideration.
- Buy high-quality, pure nitrous oxide that is free of impurities. Some cheap brands of whippets may have an aftertaste and industrial residue, which may be harmful when inhaled.
- Recreational users should only inhale hippy crack via balloons and not directly from a canister. This can prevent them from suffering lung rupture and cold burns.
- Always use the buddy system when inhaling nitrous oxide to get high. In addition to the euphoric and happy feelings, some people may experience undesirable immediate effects like loss of motor control and unconsciousness. If such a thing happens, it would be helpful to have a helping hand nearby.
- Never confuse nitrous oxide or laughing gas with other volatile substances. Make sure to read the labels to confirm the cylinder contains food-grade nitrous oxide.
- Never inhale nitrous oxide while standing up. One of the immediate effects of laughing gas is loss of coordination or motor control. A recreational user can fall and get minor or serious injuries depending on the surrounding.
- People who have mental health problems, low blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues should consider avoiding nitrous oxide altogether.
- Never use nitrous oxide in large quantities in a poorly ventilated area. This could lead to serious cases of oxygen deprivation, suffocation, and loss of consciousness.
- Recreational users should stop inhaling laughing gas if they experience any kind of physical discomfort like numbness.
- Don’t mix nitrous oxide with any other kind of medication or alcohol. The effects of the combined substances can be unpredictable and dangerous
Recognizing Nitrous Oxide Addiction
Nitrous oxide or laughing gas has been used recreationally since its discovery many years ago. Inhaling nitrous oxide was popular in social events during that time and is still used at parties, nightclubs, and carnivals to get high.
Nitrous oxide abuse and addiction are issues of which everyone should be aware. When abused long-term, laughing gas can lead to serious health complications. It should be given the same attention and respect given to any other controlled substance.
Treatment Options for Nitrous Oxide Addiction
Nitrous oxide addiction is real and there is no shame in seeking professional help. Different treatment options are available depending on the level of addiction.
The first step toward treating nitrous oxide addiction is detox. Under medical supervision, the amounts of nitrous oxide inhaled are safely and gradually reduced. This continues until the addicted person is completely free of nitrous oxide addiction.
Inpatient and Outpatient rehabilitation
Those who are heavily affected by laughing gas addiction are admitted to a treatment center for inpatient rehabilitation. This treatment option is a system that involves educational sessions, support groups, group therapy, detox, and counseling.
Outpatient rehabilitation is a treatment plan that’s given to addicts without being admitted into a treatment center. It also involves group therapy and counseling.
Is nitrous oxide legal?
Possession of nitrous oxide for use in food preparation may not be illegal in some places. But its production and supply for recreational purposes is illegal in most places.
Can nitrous oxide cause permanent damage?
Long-term use of nitrous oxide to get high can lead to severe cases of oxygen deprivation, B12 deficiency, memory loss, and even irreversible nerve damage.
How long do the effects of nitrous oxide last?
Euphoric feelings and other effects may be felt immediately after inhaling nitrous oxide and can last a few seconds to several minutes depending on the dose.
Can nitrous oxide be addictive?
The euphoric feeling can be addictive. It’s easy for recreational users to want to feel high repeatedly.
Are there any alternatives to nitrous oxide for recreational use?
In medical applications, dentists may use other forms of sedation like a prescription pill or oral sedation. But there aren’t any actual alternatives for recreational users.
The popularity of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug has been increasing. Nowadays, it’s easy to order nitrous oxide online and have it delivered to a specific address. The availability of handy tools like Nos crackers whipped cream dispensers, and balloons also make it easy to use the gas at home. So, it’s important to learn the ins and outs of nitrous oxide for recreational use.