Laughing gas

Laughing gas makes you laugh – funny that. But what else does nitrous oxide do? And is it safe?

Girl blowing up balloon

Balloons can be used for more than kids' birthday parties

What is nitrous oxide/laughing gas?

Laughing gas is a colourless, sweet-smelling gas that makes you all giggly.

Its chemical name is Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and it’s ‘supposed’ to be used to relieve pain at the dentist, or to make cake icing come out of icing cans. But then we realised we could take it recreationally to make ourselves laugh.

How do you take nitrous oxide?

It’s most commonly sold in balloons for you to suck on. The more hardcore users inhale it straight from a canister, but this is pretty risky as you can easily have too much.

Why do people take laughing gas?

  • It makes you really sad and depressed… JOKING! It makes you happy and uncontrollably giggly (if you’re on laughing gas right now, you’ll find this crap joke hilarious).
  • It makes any pain you’re in fade away for a while.
  • You’ll have a general feeling of floatiness.
  • Some people have mild dream-like hallucinations and hear weird sounds.

What are the bad side effects of nitrous oxide?

  • It makes you clumsier than a drunk clown, lots of people fall over and hurt themselves.
  • It can make you feel like you’re going to vom, especially if you mix it with alcohol.
  • Some people get an instant headache of epic proportions.
  • Too much can make you faint.

How long do the effects of laughing gas last?

It usually hits you instantly or within a few seconds. The high itself then only lasts for a few minutes, unless you take more.

Is laughing gas addictive?

There are some people who really crave it and take lots of lots in one go, but this isn’t the norm. Most people only use laughing gas recreationally once in a while.

Can you drink on laughing gas?

Mixing nitrous oxide with alcohol isn’t a great idea, as it makes you more prone to accidents. Mixing any substances can have pretty unpredictable effects.

What if you use laughing gas a lot?

Long-term use can affect your vitamin levels, particularly vitamin B12. This can numb your nerve endings, so you lose feeling in your fingers and toes. Without treatment, this can cause permanent damage.

How can I reduce the risks if I take nitrous oxide?

  • Sit down before you suck the balloon. Laughing gas screws up your motor control and it’s likely you’ll fall over and hurt your butt (or face) otherwise.
  • Don’t inhale for longer than 30 seconds, or you could suffocate yourself. That’s nothing to laugh about.
  • If you feel ‘experimental’ and like you want to put a plastic bag over your head to increase the high, please don’t. Lots of people have died doing this.
  • Try not to inhale nitrous oxide straight from the canister as it can give you frostbite of the face.
  • If you’re going to take nitrous oxide be sure that you use medical or ‘food grade’ nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is also used in motoring and this grade of gas is toxic.

Don’t confuse nitrous oxide with Nitric Oxide (NO), which is extremely poisonous.

Is laughing gas illegal?

It isn’t illegal to take laughing gas, though it is illegal to sell it to anyone under the age of 18. However, as with all legal highs, this doesn’t automatically make it safe.

Is laughing gas banned from music festivals?

Sucking on a balloon of laughing gas used to be all part of the music festival experience… but not anymore. Most of the major UK festivals have joined together in banning legal highs from their events to send out the message that they’re not safe.

Is laughing gas bad for the planet?

Nitrous oxide punches big fat holes in the ozone layer and contributes majorly to global warming. For more information about ethics and drugs, read our article here.

Photo of girl with a balloon by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015