Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, is a safe and effective sedative agent that is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a small mask that fits over your nose. It’s used to help you relax. Your dentist may offer to use laughing gas to make you more comfortable during certain procedures. It doesn’t put you to sleep, so you can hear and respond to any requests or directions the dentist may have for you. If you have an excessive fear or anxiety when it comes to going to the dentist, laughing gas may be a great way to help you relax.
There are three effects in the working mechanism of laughing gas.
- It reduces anxiety, taking away your fear.
- It kills pain, so the procedure won’t hurt.
- It creates euphoria, so you feel all kinds of good.
Although the gas has been used for a long time, the exact mechanism of its action in the body is incompletely understood, in part because the various effects depend upon different reactions. In general, nitrous oxide moderates several ligand-gated ion channels. Specifically, the mechanisms for the effects are:
- Anxiolytic or Anti-Anxiety Effect
Studies indicate the anti-anxiety effect from inhalation of laughing gas derives from increased activity of GABAA receptors. The GABAA receptor acts as the central nervous system’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter
- Painkiller or Analgesic EffectLaughing gas reduces the perception of pain by facilitating an interaction between the descending noradrenergic system and the endogenous opioid system. Nitrous oxide causes the release of endogenous opioids, but how this happens is unknown.
- Euphoria Effect
Nitrous produces euphoria by causing dopamine to be released, which stimulates the mesolimbic reward pathway in the brain. This contributes to the analgesic effect, too.
SOME COMMON SIDE EFFECTS
Here’s a rundown of side affects you might experience even when it’s being administered properly:
- Mental confusion
- Leg pains and/or numbness
Other side effects include nausea, headache, increased sleepiness, and excessive sweating or shivering. If this information has put you off of laughing gas, ask your dentist to recommend any alternatives.
Is Nitrous Oxide Safe?
When you get laughing gas at the dentist’s or doctor’s office, it’s very safe. A mask is used to first administer pure oxygen and then a mixture of oxygen and laughing gas. The effects on vision, hearing, manual dexterity and mental performance are temporary. Nitrous oxide has both neurotoxic and neuroprotective effects, but limited exposure to the chemical tends not to cause a permanent effect, one way or the other.
The primary risks from this gas are from inhaling a compressed gas directly from its canister, which could cause severe lung damage or death. Without supplemental oxygen, inhaling nitrous oxide can cause hypoxia or oxygen deprivation effects, including lightheadedness, fainting, low blood pressure, and potentially a heart attack. These risks are comparable to those of inhaling helium gas.
Prolonged exposure to laughing gas can lead to a vitamin B deficiency, reproductive problems in pregnant women, and numbness. Because very little nitrous oxide is absorbed by the body, a person inhaling laughing gas breathes out most of it. This can lead to risks to medical personnel who routinely use the gas in their practice.