Dentists often use nitrous oxide to alleviate discomfort during dental procedures.
Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide causes a calm feeling for patients, but it does not put the patient “out.” The ratio of the gases is well controlled in a dentist office or hospital since supplemental oxygen is given.
Outside of the dentist chair, nitrous oxide is used as a drug, most commonly by teenagers, and the ratio between the gases is not controlled during street use.
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What Is Nitrous Oxide?
Nitrous oxide is a gas consisting of nitrogen and oxygen. The use of nitrous oxide as a drug began back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As an inhalant, nitrous oxide relaxes smooth muscle tissue. By doing so, it dilates blood vessels, in the lungs in particular.
Nitrous oxide reduces pain and provides the person with a pleasurable feeling. Some describe it as a “happy drunk” feeling. The person may experience auditory effects, such as hearing turning into a continual electronic throbbing sound or the sensation of the ears being clogged. Visual effects are possible too. For instance, the person may have blurred vision. It is not uncommon for someone using noz to feel a lightheaded, dizzy, or cloudy feeling.
What Happens When a Person Uses It?
Noz may cause a tingling sensation, especially in the arms and legs. The person may experience a feeling of vibrations or warm sensations. It is possible for the person to feel a floating feeling.
Those who use noz often develop a tired or weak feeling. It is possible for the person to experience uncoordinated movements, uncontrollable laughter, sweating, or numbness in the body.
In most cases, the “high” lasts less than one minute; others will experience the feeling for several minutes.
Just like with other drugs, how a person responds to nitrous oxide is dependent on the person’s weight, size, health status, the amount used, the frequency of use, and what, if any, other substances the person is using at the same time.
How Does Nitrous Oxide Work?
The exact mechanism of action behind how N2O works is not known. Researchers believe a few different mechanisms are active when a person takes nitrous oxide. Through observation, researchers have noticed it depresses all sensations, including hearing, touch, and pain. It appears to prevent some of the emotional centers in the brain from functioning normally. It only mildly affects intelligence, memory, and concentration. One theory behind why nitrous oxide causes euphoria is because it deprives the brain of oxygen.
How Is It Used?
Generally, those who use nitrous oxide use a food-grade version of it. It is easily obtainable this way either via a whipped cream can or a whipped cream charger. Oftentimes, the nitrous oxide in the whip cream chargers leaves an oily residue behind. The person may suck the gas – which is used to propel the cream – out of a whipped cream canister. This is known as doing a “whip it.”
Cartridges known as whippets contain the gas as well. A person punctures the top of the cartridge to let the gas escape, and the person puts a balloon on the end of the charger and sucks the gas out of the balloon in order to warm the gas and normalize the pressure of it. Some individuals suck the nitrous oxide directly out of the whippet.
Automotive-grade nitrous oxide should never be used since it contains sulfur dioxide, which is unpleasant to inhale and has the potential to harm the lungs. Whiteout – the white substance used to correct typos – contains N2O and may be sniffed to acquire the gas. Additionally, someone may use solvents or glue to obtain the same high.
It is not uncommon for a person to use noz along with an illicit drug or prescription medication in order to enhance the high or alter the feeling. Mixing substances has the potential to increase a person’s risk of serious consequences from nitrous oxide, such as suffocation. For instance, mixing N2O gas with a stimulant or other similar drug has the potential to alter the person’s heart rate and blood pressure. Nitrous oxide combined with ketamine, LSD, mushrooms, cannabis, or salvia can cause intense dislocation. When mixed with alcohol, confusion, reduced concentration, and sluggishness are greater than when nitrous oxide or alcohol is used alone.
How Common Is Nitrous Oxide Use?
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also known as SAMHSA, reported “whip-its” as being the most popular recreational inhalant of choice. In fact, more than 12 million users in the US have tried whip-its at least once. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a majority of first-time users are 16 or 17 years old and choose to use whip-its as opposed to other inhalants.
- Those who want to repeatedly use nitrous oxide may go to their local grocery store. Balloons are filled with it and sold at concerts, and teenagers and young adults attend parties where the drug is sold. In some areas, law enforcement is cracking down on the use of nitrous oxide, especially as a party drug. The LA County sheriff’s office identified more than 350 illegal parties where nitrous oxide was being sold in 2014.
What Are the Side Effects of Noz?
The side effects of noz vary in severity. Also known as “hippie crack,” this drug causes short-term effects, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Temporary loss of motor control
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Changes in heart rate
When used directly from a tank or canister, noz has the potential to cause cold-related burns to the lips, throat, and skin because of the temperature of N2O. When used from a tank, the pressure has the potential to damage to the lungs.
In large quantities, it may cause more severe effects. For instance, a user might experience a loss in blood pressure. The person may faint from a single use. It is even possible for the person to have a heart attack or die suddenly from asphyxiation. The National Institutes of Health published material that described 20 deaths associated with the use of recreational N2O from either anesthesia tanks, whipped cream machine dispensers, or whipped cream cans. One of the deaths were from a racing fuel tank. Autopsy results all suggested asphyxia as the cause of death.
What Are the Negative Long-Term Health Effects?
Doing whip-its or abusing noz in any other form has the potential to cause long-term effects on a person’s health. It causes brain cells to die as result of the oxygen deprivation known as hypoxia. The brain damage can be permanent.
A person’s body requires vitamin B12 for normal brain function and nervous system function. It is vital in the formation of healthy red blood cells and DNA. Individuals who use noz regularly reduce their availability of B12. This has an impact on the nerves in both the upper and lower extremities. It oftentimes results in numbers in the toes or fingers, which may or may not be permanent. It is possible for other nerve damage to occur, such as limb spasms.
Brain damage from noz use causes memory loss in some individuals. Although rare, psychological issues are possible, ranging from depression to psychosis. Other long-term effects of the drug include a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears, incontinence, or disruption to the reproductive system. Birth defects are possible when a woman uses nitrous oxide during pregnancy.
Can a Person Become Physically Dependent on Noz?
The gases in N2O do not have any properties that make them physically addictive. Therefore, people who stop using nitrous oxide will not have any physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, abdominal cramping, or diarrhea. However, the person may experience psychological dependency, meaning the individual will repeatedly want to use the drug to achieve the high. An individual may experience agitation as a result of not having the nitrous oxide and may go to extremes to obtain it.
Does Noz Cause Withdrawal?
Noz does not cause withdrawal symptoms, besides craving more of the substance. A user may continuously try to achieve the same, immediate high or try to take bigger “hits” to increase the high once the drug exits the body.
How Is Noz Addiction Treated?
Noz addiction treatment is similar to treatment for other drugs that cause psychological dependency. Treatment revolves around determining any underlying causes of the addiction; in therapy, the client will describe when the noz use began and what factors contributed to it. The therapist will help the client change behaviors and thoughts associated with the addiction, helping the person to develop healthier coping mechanisms that don’t involve substance use. By addressing routines, behaviors, and thoughts associated with the addiction, the therapist helps the client change to promote long-term recovery.
In addition, addiction treatment programs involve various other complementary therapies and treatments. Potential program offerings include specialized therapies, such as art therapy, wilderness therapy, equine-assisted therapy, or music therapy. Wellness programs that include exercise regimes, yoga classes, meditation workshops, and massage therapy may be included as well. Other standards in addiction treatment include group therapy, 12-Step-based programs, and family therapy.
The key is that treatment should be customized to fit the unique needs of each individual in treatment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone in recovery. A high-quality program will understand this and tailor treatment programs accordingly.