Laughing all the way … out of depression

The dentist’s office might be the last place you’d look to find a quick cure for an implacable bout of depression. But new research suggests that laughing gas — the mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen that eases the pain and anxiety of having dental work — may help banish treatment-resistant depression in about the time it takes to fill a cavity…

But it is actually another legitimate sedative-turned-party-drug, ketamine, that prompted researchers to explore whether nitrous oxide might have a rapid anti-depressant effect.

A growing number of studies in recent years has shown that when it is infused at low levels, ketamine has a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect in patients with severe and unyielding depression. As an anesthetic or party drug, ketamine induces a euphoric “out-of-body” high. But when administered to the suicidally depressed, it is thought to be a promising “rescue” drug that offers relief quickly, filling the four-to-six-week gap needed for many standard antidepressant medications, including Zoloft and Prozac, to take full effect.

Like ketamine, nitrous oxide is an antagonist of the brain’s NMDA receptor, a key bit of the cerebral machinery that makes the brain hum. Working together, psychiatrists and anesthesiologists at Washington University in St. Louis, wondered whether nitrous oxide — a far less addictive drug than ketamine, and one that pharmacologists consider less likely to have unforeseen side effects — might have the same benefits…

One day after nitrous oxide treatment, three patients reported that their symptoms had disappeared almost completely, while another seven reported significant improvement. Seven patients reported mild improvement in their symptoms. No patients said their symptoms worsened after treatment with nitrous oxide…

Demi Moore reportedly hospitalized after inhaling nitrous oxide (2012)

What exactly are whippets? Also known as “whip-its,” “whippits,” and “nossies,” they are steel cylinders filled with nitrous oxide, or “NOX,” which is often used in dentists’ offices before novocaine injections or dental procedures…

Glatter said he “occasionally” sees people come to the emergency department after inhaling whippets, but mostly in teens and less frequent in recent years.

Are whippets addictive?

Stratyner, who has no involvement in Moore’s case, said the gas can be psychologically addictive, but it’s “not highly usual” that people would go to rehab for it. According to Stratyner, nitrous oxide is often not a drug of choice for many people, but rather one of many drugs they use.  “If they’re doing nitrous, they’re probably doing other things,” he said.

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