Nitrous Oxide: Therapeutic use
Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:14 pm
As an anesthetic, nitrous oxide has many legitimate uses. In dentistry it is used to calm patients and lower their anxiety (a process known as conscious sedation).
American obstetricians used nitrous oxide as a common pain management tool for women in labor through the early 1970s. Today, the anesthetic has been largely replaced in the United States, but a 50/50 mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen is still the anesthetic of choice for women in labor in the UK — over 60% use the gas for pain relief.
Nitrous oxide’s ability to reduce anxiety is useful for uncomfortable or painful medical procedures. Some studies have also shown that children over the age of six experience less discomfort and mental distress when given nitrous oxide during short but painful medical procedures.
And somewhat ironically, nitrous oxide appears to have some use as an treatment for withdrawal symptoms. Several South African studies have demonstrated the usefulness of nitrous oxide in treating withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings during alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine detoxification. And in early 2002, a small study published in Clinical Psychiatry found that the gas may also be helpful in helping smokers kick the habit. Researchers found that 92% of patients who inhaled a 50%/50% mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen for 20 minutes on the day they quit smoking experienced decreased cravings for cigarettes over the following three days. Further studies are needed to determine the role that nitrous oxide may have in smoking cessation and substance abuse treatment.