Have you ever wondered why people become giggly during some dental procedures? Well, the answer is a little something called “laughing gas,” otherwise known as nitrous oxide.

Although it’s not just used in dental clinics and can be found across many medical settings for its anaesthetic properties, unfortunately, it’s also become a popular (and dangerous) recreational substance.

Find out more about what laughing gas can do to our bodies and why it’s dangerous in the context of recreational use.

What Is Laughing Gas?

Nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas and happy gas) is a non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odour and taste. It has no colour to it, so you can’t see it. Outside of medical settings, it’s also used as a food additive as a preservative, and you can find it in whipped cream chargers, often called “whippits,” and it’s even used to boost engine performance in racing.

In medical settings, it’s mixed with oxygen, inhaled through a mask and used as a sedative. Recreational users typically release the gas into a balloon from a whipped cream charger or tank before inhaling it. This method helps cool the gas, which can be dangerously cold when released.


What Does Laughing Gas Do to You?

When you inhale laughing gas, it very quickly enters your bloodstream and starts impacting your nervous system. Nitrous oxide has a unique ability to change how your body processes pain signals and emotions, resulting in immediate and noticeable effects that alter your perception and feelings.

Almost immediately after it is inhaled, nitrous oxide slows down your nervous system and dissolves in the bloodstream, where it targets the brain and nerves. This can mean a reduction in pain sensitivity and feeling euphoric or intense happiness. This euphoric state is often accompanied by feeling relaxed and very calm, as well as feeling detached and unphased by any immediate stress.

The initial sensations might also include the following:

  • Light-headedness
  • A spike in blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling slightly off-balance.

Alongside this, it’s also common to experience a surprising uplift in mood, which can look like random, spontaneous laughter – hence the name, laughing gas. This reaction is not just physiological but also psychological, as the gas can induce a carefree state where normal interactions or environments feel more funnier than usual.


Psychological Effects of Laughing Gas

When too much nitrous oxide is inhaled, people can also have very vivid or unusual experiences, such as auditory or visual hallucinations. Experiencing these can feel quite surreal and distressing, depending on the person and what they visualise.

It’s also not uncommon to hear sounds that aren’t real or see objects moving in ways they usually don’t. Another common effect is the sensation of floating or feeling as though your body is lighter than air. You might also perceive time and space differently, experiencing almost a dream-like state where reality seems altered or strange.


How Long Do the Effects of Laughing Gas Last?

The effects of laughing gas wear off very quickly, sometimes within only a few minutes after you stop inhaling it.

This short duration is part of what makes it popular in certain contexts (such as during minor medical procedures), as it provides a quick and reversible way to manage pain and anxiety without long-lasting side effects.

Psychologically, laughing gas’s pull is due to its ability to offer a brief and (most of the time) pleasant escape from reality. It allows users to experience a different state of consciousness quickly and temporarily, which can be particularly appealing during moments of stress or discomfort.

This form of escapism, although momentary, can provide significant relief and a little mental break.


What Are the Risks of Inhaling Laughing Gas?

Although it might seem harmless and fun, inhaling nitrous oxide recreationally, it’s actually a substance that comes with many risks.

In cases of excessive nitrous oxide inhalation, users might experience nausea, vomiting, or even lose consciousness. Because nitrous oxide can impair judgment and motor functions, its use can lead to physical injuries and accidents.

From a long-term perspective, laughing gas inhalation is linked to causing a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause serious, irreversible nerve damage. Other risks include developing a dependency on the substance, which typically requires professional support to overcome.

Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from a canister, tank, or charger can also result in lung damage or asphyxia, which can be deadly.

The fact that laughing gas is a colourless gas can also contribute to the potential for accidentally consuming too much. Being colourless and also mostly odourless makes it less detectable in the environment, which can lead to unintentional overexposure.

So, people might accidentally inhale more nitrous oxide than intended, which can increase the risk of side effects such as pure oxygen deprivation, disorientation, and other potentially harmful effects.

Because laughing gas tends to be used recreationally in party settings, mixing it with other drugs and substances, such as alcohol, is common. This can be even more dangerous because both substances depress the central nervous system, potentially leading to enhanced effects of intoxication, respiratory depression, or even unconsciousness.


Need Help? Contact Us Today

If you or someone you know needs more information or help regarding the use of nitrous oxide or any other substance, please reach out today at 0800 012 6088.


  • [1] such as auditory or visual hallucinations - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5925601/