Researchers Say Laughing Gas Might Cure Depression


take your medicine.

There’s new research suggesting that nitrous oxide could help cure depression. This is shocking and amazing, but not too surprising. It’s nicknamed “laughing gas” for a reason, right?

Researchers decided to test out their theory that nitrous oxide (generally used during dental treatments for its anesthetic qualities) could have mood-boosting properites. They gave twenty participants two different doses of the drug and gave another group a placebo. Of the group who received the laughing gas, two-thirds reported some of the symptoms of depression they were experiencing being lifted, as opposed to the one-third of subjects who received a placebo. Those who felt better experienced relief within a couple, with the results lasting into the following day, although the study did not continue past that point, so it remains unclear if the results are long-term.

Roughly half of the people who seek treatment for depression don’t get the results they’re looking for from our current form of antidepressants and other treatment options. This finding could potentially change the way we approach the rampant issue of over-prescribing medication. Antidepressants work by raising levels of serotonin or other chemicals in the brain, which is useful when the person being treated exhibits very low levels of those chemicals, but results aren’t always guaranteed. And for those whom antidepressants do work for, there can still be all kinds of unwanted side effects. It’s not a perfect science at all, but it’s one that the modern practice of treating mental issues is based on.

Ketamine, which is also used for dental treatments, is offering a glimmer of hope for people suffering from depression as well, but the drug is significantly stronger and not all great either. Hallucination while under its influence, for example, is common, as is an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Currently, the long term-side effects of the drug on people who take it regularly are unknown. So while some researchers say it can relieve depression symptoms within a couple hours, there are no authorizations to test this theory out in long-term human trials.

Just because there haven’t been enough studies to market it as a depression treatment, though, doesn’t mean that you still can’t use it for that purpose. Some doctors are prescribing off-label ketamine depression treatments to patients who want to use it, and charging $300-1000 a pop. Obviously, there are substantial risks in involved (for both the doctor and the patient), but apparently that some of the severely depressed are willing to give it the good old college try. Some people have reported going from suicidal to fully recovered after taking part in ketamine treatments, but it appears that you have to keep up with it regularly — otherwise, the depression can come back.

Perhaps heading to the doctor for a ketamine drip isn’t everyone’s idea of an ideal treatment, but the way the drug interacts with the NMDA receptor in the brain instead of completely blocking it gives consideration for better ways to treat depression. Pharmaceutical companies are already trying to develop drugs that work on the brain in a similar manner, sans the side effects that can be experienced with ketamine. And if you’ve ever quickly bolted from a party after finding out that the host was horrifically coming out of a recreational “K-hole,” you’d probably agree: the less side effects, the better.

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