Laughing gas / nitrous oxide

What is laughing gas or nitrous oxide?

Laughing gas (N2O; NOS, nitrous oxide) is a drug with dissociative psychedelic and anesthetic (pain relieving) effects. It is a colourless sweet smelling and tasting gas. It is used at the dentist and in the hospital as a pain reliever. It is used recreationally for its dissociative psychedelic effects.


The effect of a substance is determined by the properties of the substance itself, but also by the set and setting of the user. Here we describe the effects of nitrous oxide in general.

Laughing gas gives a short, but strong psychedelic and dissociative effect. Twenty to thirty seconds after inhalation, a decrease in consciousness occurs that resembles drunkenness, which can lead to giggling (hence the name laughing gas). The effect comes up quickly and gives a feeling of an almost loss of consciousness, dizziness and balance problems. Then there is a strong intoxication effect for a few minutes where what you hear, see and feel merge into each other. Sometimes you hear a buzzing sound. You may become dizzy and feel like you are losing consciousness. Sometimes you get fits of laughter. Feelings and thoughts that you are otherwise not aware of come to mind. In some cases you will see or hear things that are not there (hallucinate). Usually you feel cheerful or even euphoric under the influence of laughing gas. But you can also feel restless or anxious, like in a nightmare. After a few minutes you will be sober again.

Positive effects:

  • Dreamy buzz
  • Euphoria
  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Hallucinations

Side effects (neutral or negative)

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with your balance
  • Weak limbs
  • Headache after use
  • Tingling limbs
  • Anxiety and unrest

Dosage and method of use

Laughing gas is usually inhaled from a balloon. The gas is put in the balloon through a whipped cream can (1 or 2 whippets) or a large metal cylinder. You breathe in and out into the balloon, holding the inhaled gas in your lungs for a few seconds.

Unity Tip: After 4 inhalations you will have inhaled all the laughing gas that was in the balloon. Inhaling more often or holding your breath for longer is therefore of no use.


Laughing gas works for a few minutes.


Short-term risks

Freezing Lungs

The way nitrous oxide is used is very important. Never inhale directly from a dispenser/whippet/whipped cream can. This can cause part of your body to freeze, for example your lungs. And lipps, nose and vocal chords can freeze. So always use nitrous oxide with a balloon.

Oxygen deficiency in the brain

Laughing gas can lead to short-term oxygen deficiency in the brain. In addition, you may experience difficulty concentrating or headaches, become dizzy, lose your balance or pass out. You can fall and hurt yourself or even break something. So always make sure you sit or lie down when you are using nitrous oxide.

Consequences of pregnancy

If you are pregnant, nitrous oxide can cause an oxygen deficiency in the baby. This has serious consequences for the baby. Spontaneous abortion or serious birth defects can occur.


Participation in traffic immediately after or during the use of nitrous oxide is very dangerous. Make sure you are sober for at least an hour before getting back into traffic. So never use nitrous oxide while driving.

Long-term risks

Neurological damage

Prolonged and heavy use can lead to serious central nervous system disorders. This is because nitrous oxide blocks the effect of vitamin B12. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include tingling in toes and fingers. This turned out to happen in some people who used very frequently in a short time (50-100 balloons in 3 hours) or after heavy use for a long time (10-20 balloons daily in 10 days).
Furthermore, nitrous oxide blocks the glutamate receptor. This can cause brain damage. Anesthesia with nitrous oxide for young children is therefore not recommended.


Laughing gas can also be mentally addictive. Some users immediately want another balloon after the last one. This is called craving. Because that effect can be so strong with nitrous oxide, it is sometimes called a ‘hippie crack’.

In addition, mild tolerance can occur after using nitrous oxide; you then need more to feel the same effect.


Combining different types of drugs can be risky and unpredictable. When you combine drugs you can have a higher risk of health problems. In the following paragraphs you can read about the effects and the risks of a number of combinations that occur frequently and also a about few that are extra hazardous. Also check our theme combining drugs.

Alcohol and nitrous oxide

Combination with alcohol or other downers can increase the anesthetic effect of nitrous oxide and the risks. The chance that you’ll get nausea and dizziness increases.

Ecstasy/MDMA and laughing gas

Under the influence of XTC/MDMA, laughing gas can intensify the trip. This can be fun, but also scary, if it’s too intense.

It can be tempting to just keep taking balloons. It is best to enjoy this in moderation. See also the risks of nitrous oxide.

Unity tips

The use of laughing gas is never a 100% safe. But the risks can be limited:

  • Make sure you can sit or lie down during use.
  • Make sure your hands are empty and put out your cigarette.
  • Only take nitrous oxide from balloons and never directly from a can or dispenser. This prevents serious frostbite in the mouth, lips, vocal cords and lungs.
  • Do not use more than 10 balloons per occasion.
  • Do not use more than once a month.
  • Do not hold a whipped cream cannister between your legs when filling a balloon. The cannister can then freeze your legs and this can cause burns and scars.
  • You have absorbed pretty much all the nitrous oxide from the balloon after four times inhaling. So don’t keep inhaling. This will only lead to oxygen deprivation.
  • When breathing from a balloon, first take a big gulp of air, then alternate a gulp of nitrous oxide with a gulp of normal air to avoid oxygen deprivation
  • Pay attention to your body’s signals. Stop using when you get complaints from nitrous oxide.
  • Do not combine with alcohol or other narcotics, this enhances the narcotic effect of nitrous oxide and increases the risk.
  • Do not use if you are pregnant.
  • Put cotton wool in the whipped cream dispenser to catch the loose metal particles from the whippets, to make sure you are not inhaling them.


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