Low Doses Of ‘Laughing Gas’ Could Help Cure Depression, New Study Finds

Julia Banim


PA Images/Pixabay

A new study has found that low doses of ‘laughing gas’ could help provide effective treatment for depression.

This new study, from researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine and Washington University, revealed that a single inhalation session with just 25% nitrous oxide gas was almost as effective as 50% nitrous oxide when looking to rapidly relieve symptoms of treatment-resistant depression.

As well as fewer adverse side effects – such as nausea, vomiting and headaches – the positive effects were also found to last far longer than had previously been thought, with some participants experiencing improvements for upwards of two weeks.

Depression stock image (PA)PA Images

These results support the notion that non-traditional treatments could well be a viable option for mental health patients who are not responding to typical antidepressants, and could also work as a rapidly effective treatment those experiencing a crisis.

Colloquially referred to as ‘laughing gas’, nitrous oxide is often used as a type of anaesthetic, offering short-term pain relief for patients during dental and surgical procedures.

In a previous study, researchers tested out the effects of a one-hour inhalation session with 50% nitrous oxide gas with 20 patients.

This prior study led to rapid improvements in symptoms of depression that lasted for at least a 24-hour period when compared with a placebo. However, it was also found that several patients suffered negative side effects.

Depressed man with head in arms (Pixabay)Pixabay

In this most recent study, investigators repeated a similar protocol, again looking at 20 patients. However, this time around, they adding an inhalation session using 25% nitrous oxide.

It was discovered that with even just half the concentration of nitrous oxide, this treatment was almost as effective and patients exhibited fewer side effects.

Peter Nagele, MD, Chair of Anesthesia and Critical Care at UChicago Medicine, said:

This investigation was motivated by observations from research on ketamine and depression. Like nitrous oxide, ketamine is an anaesthetic, and there has been promising work using ketamine at a sub-anaesthetic dose for treating depression.

We wondered if our past concentration of 50% had been too high. Maybe by lowering the dose, we could find the ‘Goldilocks spot’ that would maximize clinical benefit and minimize negative side effects.

Going forward, these results would suggest promise for nitrous oxide to used as a quick, effective treatment for sufferers of severe depression who are not responding to typical treatments.

Featured Image Credit: PA Images/Pixabay

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.

Topics: Health, depression


Science Translational Medicine
  1. Science Translational Medicine

    Low doses of "laughing gas" could be fast, effective treatment for severe depression

Julia Banim
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