Freshly Baked Science

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No Laughing Matter

28th August 2018

Laughing gas, which is a gas called nitrous oxide, is used daily in a medical environment for its anaesthetic and pain killing properties. It’s most often used for women who are giving birth and at the dentist. In the last few years, this has risen in popularity as a recreational drug, although the first time it was used for non-medicinal purposes was way back in Victorian times!


Nitrous oxide is a colourless, non-flammable gas. When used recreationally, the gas is contained in single-use cartridges (known as whippets), at high pressure. Users fill up balloons with the contents and breathe it in. The effects of the drug include giggling, euphoria, hallucinations and dizziness. This feeling only lasts about 20 seconds after inhaling, so users will often take multiple balloons in one ‘session’.


With this drug becoming so widely used, it’s easy to assume that the use of the gas is all harmless fun. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as taking the drug comes with many complications, which is heightened with repeated use. This is why it is now illegal to sell nitrous oxide for human consumption.


When the gas is inhaled from the balloon, it essentially pushes the oxygen out of the lung to make space for the nitrous oxide. This temporarily reduced or blocks oxygen from entering the bloodstream. If it is repeatedly used over a short period of time, there is a high risk of oxygen starvation, where not enough oxygen is getting to the brain, causing loss of consciousness!


If the drug becomes used regularly, users can become deficient in vitamin B12. This is because the gas can convert vitamin B12 into its inactive form. People deficient in this vitamin develop anaemia which causes extreme tiredness, headaches, breathlessness and heart palpitations. In serious cases, it can also cause severe nerve damage, leaving the patient with anything from tingling limbs to paralysis!


The risks of this drug sound extremely scary and when weighed up against 30 seconds of ‘harmless’ fun with some friends, it really doesn’t seem worth it! Be sure to share on social media to let others know about the risks and send us your opinion on twitter (@magazinewonk)!

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