How Nitrous Oxide Works

Nitrous oxide is a natural gas that is found in the earth’s atmosphere as a trace component. It is also known as “laughing gas” for its euphoric effects, and it can be used for pain relief during minor dental work.

Nitrous oxide is colorless, odorless and nonflammable. The gas is produced when nitric acid reacts with nitrogen dioxide. Therefore, it is formed when fossil fuels are burned, for example, natural gas and gasoline.

Nitrous oxide has become easily and widely accessible for purposes of recreational use since it can be bought and sold legally for the purpose of making whipped cream.

Effects Of Nitrous Oxide

The effects of laughing gas have been studied and found to be very brief and are nearly immediate (almost immediate). Onset is extremely rapid, with some research suggesting that it starts to work in less than a second when placed in the lungs.

It is almost immediately broken down (by bubbling through blood) into the inactive compound nitric oxide. The effects of laughing gas are very short lived, lasting only 3 to 5 minutes, because it breaks down so quickly in the body.

The gas is known as “laughing gas” because of its effect on the facial muscles, reducing pain and soreness and relaxing the jaw. Laughing gas also acts to anesthetize the nasal passages, and as such, nasal congestion associated with cold or allergies can be relieved quickly.

How Nitrous Oxide Functions As A Drug

The exact way to determine how nitrous oxide functions is still unclear. According to various studies, the analgesic actions of nitrous oxide are suggested to come from stimulation of opioid receptors while its anesthetic actions are because of blocking the glutamate receptor’s NMDA subtype. However, these concepts are yet to be proven in humans.

With regards to recreational effects, they occur at lower concentrations and may be attributed to alterations of blood flow in the brain. This is similar to the recreational effects of nitric oxide, another gas produced from the sniffing of “poppers”.

Usage Of Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is an anesthetic agent. Anesthetic agents have been used for years in all types of dentistry, especially on children, because they do not induce changes in brain chemistry or affect the way the body absorbs oxygen.

For more than 100 years, dentists have used nitrous oxide successfully to reduce dental pain, reduce jaw muscle contractions, and relax the jaw muscles. Since it does not change the heart rate or breathing, nitrous is also a good anesthetic to use with minor dental procedures like fillings and extractions.

However, nitrous oxide is not the best choice for major surgical procedures, such as those that require general anesthesia or brain surgery.

Side Effects Of Nitrous Oxide

Even though they are rare, occasionally, there might be some temporary discomforts experienced by people due to intake of nitrous oxide. These effects may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shivering
  • Excessive sweating

Again, these side effects only occur in very rare scenarios. In most cases, your experience with nitrous oxide is usually easy and will enable you to receive the dental care you need without any worries.

Long-term Effects Of Nitrous Oxide

According to various studies, the intake of nitrous oxide many times a day for long periods is likely to result in physical and mental damage. This is because the vitamin B12 reserves in the body are gradually inactivated.

Vitamin B12 is integral for maintenance of a healthy nervous system, thus, its deficiency may cause nerve and brain damage. People may exhibit symptoms such as severe weakness of the arms and legs or episodes of mental illness, in a handful of cases.

Long-term use can also increase blood pressure, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Blood vessels may also be damaged through long-term usage, causing increased pressure on the arteries and in the brain.

Using nitrous oxide too often may also make your blood more likely to clot and increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

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