Nitrous Oxide: Low dose of laughing gas can help patients with major depression

Nelson Vergel

"A previous study showed that laughing gas improved depression symptoms one day after treatment. In the new study, the researchers wanted to see whether those effects were long-lasting and whether a lower dose could work as well.
To do this, they recruited 24 patients with TRMD, who were randomized in a crossover study to receive placebo, the low dose, or the high dose of laughing gas for one hour. In following sessions, each participant was again randomized to a different treatment group. Researchers then evaluated depressive symptoms of the 20 participants who completed all three sessions with a variety of questionnaires up to two weeks after each treatment.

After receiving either dose of laughing gas treatment, participants reported having less depression symptoms than those who did not. In one specific questionnaire, depression symptoms dropped between five and seven points, on a 65-point scale, with laughing gas compared to placebo two weeks after treatment. However, the high dose, 50% nitrous oxide, resulted in side effects like nausea and vomiting. The lower dose had much less frequent and less severe side effects. After the entire study was completed, depression symptoms had dropped about 11 points from their baseline levels.

“I work with these people for so many years, I don’t expect to see new things work,” said Charles Conway, professor of psychiatry at Washington University and senior author of the study. “But patients in this trial, some of whom I have known for a long time, got better.”


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