The Pain-relieving Effects of Nitrous Oxide - Laughing Gas

By: Zeta Dental

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or sweet air, is a chemical compound with the formula N2O. It is an oxide of nitrogen. At room temperature, it is a colorless non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as "laughing gas" due to the euphoric effects of inhaling it, a property that has led to its recreational use as a dissociative anesthetic. It is also used as an oxidizer in rocketry and in motor racing to increase the power output of engines. At elevated temperatures, nitrous oxide is a powerful oxidizer similar to molecular oxygen.

Nitrous oxide gives rise to NO (nitric oxide) on reaction with oxygen atoms, and this NO in turn reacts with ozone. As a result, it is the main naturally occurring regulator of stratospheric ozone. It is also a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant. Considered over a 100-year period, it has 298 times more impact 'per unit weight' (Global warming potential) than carbon dioxide.

The pain-relieving effects of nitrous oxide - laughing gas - may be enhanced by suggestion or hypnosis, according to a new study by UCL (University College London). The study's findings - that people are more suggestible under the gas - mean that dental patients may benefit from being coached to relax while undergoing sedation.

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is commonly used by dentists to sedate their patients before treatment, but some dentists believe their patients also become more suggestible while under the influence of the gas. A number of dentists have been trained in hypnosis and find that their patients respond well to being spoken to in a quiet, hypnotic manner - the new findings suggest that these effects could be further enhanced with laughing gas.

The UCL study set out to establish whether laughing gas does indeed boost imaginative suggestibility - a trait closely related to hypnotic suggestibility - and imagery vividness. Thirty participants took part in two sessions where they were given a mask from which they breathed in air or 25 per cent nitrous oxide. The volunteers were not told which type of gas they were being given, and the mask was scented to disguise the sweet smell of the laughing gas.

During each session, participants were given a series of mental imagery tests and were asked to rate their response according to a scale of 1-7, where 1 was 'as clear and vivid as the real thing' and 7 was 'no image present at all'. For example, participants were asked to close their eyes and imagine tasting oranges or smelling roast beef, feeling linen or hearing the honk of a car horn.

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