Nitrous oxide was first synthesized by Joseph Priestley in 1772. Almost 30 years later, in 1799, another English chemist, Sir Humphrey Davy, studied the effect of various gases on the human body. As he experimented with nitrous oxide, the chemist laughed – the scientist called N2O “laughing gas” due to its mild narcotic activity. in addition, he noticed another pleasant effect – his toothache stopped. So, the chemist had ascertained anesthetic properties of the gas.

It is said that the dentist Horace Wells was the first doctor to start using laughing gas for anesthesia. The first experimental subject to have his tooth removed with nitrogen oxide anesthesia was Dr. Wells himself. The procedure was successful, and the doctor assured that he did not feel any pain. In 1868, the American surgeon E. Andrews added oxygen to nitrous oxide, obtaining a mixture that significantly extended the application of anesthesia.

Nitrous oxide is used in today’s medicine for anesthesia by inhalation. Mixed with oxygen, the gas is used for surgeries and is often combined with other anesthetic agents such as analgesics. Among other applications, the gas is used in dentistry and to reduce childbirth pain – nitrous oxide has little effect on birth activity and is non-toxic to the fetus.

In recent years, nitrogen oxide filled balloons have been becoming increasingly popular among partygoers: nitrous oxide results in a short-term intoxicating effect, letting people experience euphoria for up to half a minute. Dizziness, thinking difficulties, and laughter attacks may arise. Higher doses can cause a sense of “levitation” and dissociation of the mind and the body. Now it’s banned: effective January 1st, 2021, a law came into force prohibiting the production, use, distribution and promotion of nitrous oxide for purposes other than medical, industrial and technical uses. Legislative loopholes effectively permitted the use of “laughing gas” in nightclubs and at discos.

Doctors note that excessive use of nitrous oxide harms blood and the respiratory system irreversibly, and can be fatal in some cases. Only highly purified gas is used in medicine, delivered in a controlled manner through filters. The gas will do no harm when administered under medical supervision, but a substance of dubious quality used without restraint can kill. The gas could not be listed as a prohibited narcotic substance due to its extensive medical application. Yet, from now on, N2O is on the list of intoxicating substances, and it is no longer sold publicly.

At normal temperature, nitrous oxide is a colorless incombustible gas with a pleasant sweet smell and flavor. Nitrous oxide ranks third among persistent greenhouse gases in terms of importance. Its accumulation in Earth’s atmosphere is one of the causes of global warming, as N2O destroys stratospheric ozone.


Based on materials from public sources

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