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Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide

Federal Law

Nitrous Oxide is not a scheduled substance under federal law.

Below are the states which currently have laws that prohibit the recreational inhalation of Nitrous Oxide. There are likely other states with similar laws.

State Law

Death/Injury Stats
These are for inhalants in general. Not specific to N20

Trends in Adolescent Inhalant Admissions
The number of adolescent admissions to publicly funded substance abuse treatment facilities increased from 109,000 in 1994 to 131,000 in 1999 (data not shown). During that period, the number and proportion of adolescent admissions associated with inhalant abuse declined from 4,731 (4 percent) in 1994 to 2,091 (2 percent) in 1999. (bold mine)

Famous N2O Users

The original list was published in 'The book of lists' by Wallechinsky et al. (It also lists famous people using cocaine, hash, morphine, LSD, mescaline heroine and opium.)

Thomas Wedgwood, 1771-1805, English Physicist
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, English Poet
Robert Southey, 1774-1843, English Poet
Humphrey Davy, 1778-1829, English Chemist
Peter Mark Roget, 1779-1889, Author of 'Roget's Thesaurus'
Samuel Colt, 1814-1862, American Inventor of the Colt .45 revolver
William James, 1842-1910, American Philosopher
Theodore Dreiser, 1871-1945, American Writer and Journalist
Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, English Politician (...)
Peter Ouspenski, 1878-1947, Russian disciple of Gudjieff
Allen Grinsberg, 1926-, American Poet
Gregori Corso, 1930-, American Poet
Ken Kesey, 1965-, American Writer

William James and N20

In 1882 he first described his experiments with the drug; in 1898 he published an article titled "Consciousness Under Nitrous Oxide" in the Psychological Review ; in 1902 he recounted the experience in his greatest work, The Varieties of Religious Experience ; and in 1910, in the last essay he completed, he implied that nitrous oxide had had an abiding influence on his thinking. : The Nitrous Oxide Philosopher (The Atlantic Monthly May 1996). : links to works and letters of James. : The Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide by William James. : William James reviews "The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy."

Comprehensive Web Site on Wm. James

Some Additional References—still need to go through these

FROM CHOCOLATE TO MORPHINE: Andrew Weil & Winifred Rosen. Make sure you get the 1993 edition.


Pulsson (1979) "Recreational" misuse of nitrous oxide, J. Am Dent. Soc. 98:410-411

 Sahenk et al.(1978) "Polyneuropathy from inhalation of N2O cartridges through a whipped cream dispenser" Neurology 28:485-487.

From: Stacey (1992) " Methionine in the treatment of nitrous oxide induced neuropathy and myeloneuropathy" Journal of Neurology 239:401-403.

Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol 96, 3,Mar 1982,pp333-334:Home made Nitrous Oxide: No laughing matter.

Gillman, M.A. Nitrous oxide abuse in perspective

Clinical Neuropharmacol. 1992, 15:297-306

Dohrn, C.S., Lichtor, J.L., Finn, R.S., Uitvlugt, A., Coalson, D.W., Rupani, G., de Wit, H. and Zacny, J.P. Subjective and psychomotor effects of nitrous oxide in healthy volunteers Behavioural Pharmacology 1992,3:19-30

  1. Barker, George T. Instructions in the preparation, administration, and properties of nitrous oxide, protoxide of nitrogen, or laughing gas.  3rd ed.  [Philadelphia] Rubencame and Barker, 1870. UCSF  Library   RD86.N7 B2 1870 Books

  2. DISSERTATION. Barton, William Paul Crillon, 1786-1856. A dissertation on the chymical properties and exhilerating effects of nitrous oxide gas; and its application to pneumatick medicine ... Philadelphia, Printed for the author, at the Lorenzo Press, 1808. UCD   HealthSci micro film 200 reel 6 no.144 Microform. UCSF  Library   micro- film 658 History Media.

   3. Bourne, James Gerald. Nitrous oxide in dentistry : its danger and alternatives / J. G. Bourne. Chicago : Year Book Publishers, 1960. UCSF  Library   RK512.N55 B67 1960 Books

   4. Davy, Humphry, Sir, 1778-1829. Researches, chemical and philosophical; chiefly concerning nitrous oxide, or dephlogisticated nitrous air, and its respiration, by Humphry Davy ... London, Printed for J. Johnson by Briggs and Cottle, 1800. UCLA  Biomed    WZ 260 D268r 1800 Rare Library has: Library's copy has duplicate p.541-542 after p.580

   5. Eastwood, Douglas W. Nitrous oxide.  Philadelphia, F.A. Davis Co. [1964]. Series title:  Clinical anesthesia 1/1964. UCD   HealthSci WO205 C65 1964 no.1 UCSF  Library   RD81.A1 C64 v.1 1964 Books

   6. Nitrous oxide/N2O / edited by Edmond I. Eger II.  New York : Elsevier, c1985. UCD   HealthSci QV81 N58 1985. UCI   Biomed    QV 81 N731 1985. UCLA  Biomed    QV 81 N731 1985. UCSD  Biomed    QV 81 N731 1985. UCSF  Library   RD86.N7 N58 1985 Books. CSL   Main Lib RD86.N7 N58 1985 General Coll.

   7. Shedlin, Michael. Laughing gas (nitrous oxide); historical and recent essays on the practice of inhaling nitrous oxide. Edited by Michael Shedlin & David Wallechinsky, with Saunie Salyer.  [1st ed.  n.p.] And/Or Press [1973]. UCD   HealthSci QV81 S53. UCSB  Main Lib  RD86.N7 S53 Sci-Eng

   8. Smith, W. D. A. Under the influence : a history of nitrous oxide and oxygen anaesthesia / W.D.A. Smith.  London : Scientific and Medical Division, Macmillan, 1982. UCD   HealthSci WO211.1 S65 1982. UCI   Biomed    WO 211.1 S663u 1982. UCLA  Biomed    WO 211.1 S663u 1982 Hist Div. UCSD  Biomed    WO 211.1 S663u 1982. UCSF  Library   RD79 .S65 1982 History


            Lancet, Vol.2 no.8102, 9 Dec. 1978, pg 1227-1230, Myeloneuropathy after prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide. --the B12 deficiency. Doesn't look like a real problem without very heavy use or very low B12 levels.

              Lancet, Aug12, 1978, pg339-342, Megaloblastic hemopoiesis in patients receiving nitrous oxide. 
--B12 metabolism

              Anaesthesiology, 1978, Dec67(6) 960-964,  
--sorry, haven't got the title, this is about teratogenic effects in rats.

              Anaesthesia, 34, 1979, pg147-151,
--nitrous hazardous for patients with ear surgery or ear disease. Forgot to mention this problem in the previous post. Does not appear to be a problem if your ears are healthy.  

            Seminars in Surgical Oncology, 1990, 6(3), 141-147 
--cancer, cause or cure? Havn't read this one (not in the local library).

              Abuse of volatile substances, information paper 2, (Australian) Commonwealth Department of Health, Drugs of Dependency branch, 1984,             --this is a great reference, a small booklet on N2O, patterns of abuse, obtainability, toxicity and side effects, etc. Probably difficult to get outside of Australia, but worth trying for.

              Acta Anae. Scand. 1985 29 pg 635-638,  
--study on volunteers looking at acute tolerance, subjective and objective observations.

            Review of inhalants: Euphoria to Dysfuntion, Sharp, C.W. and Brehm, M. L. (editors), NIDA research monograph no.15, U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1977  
--this contains two articles, Abuse of Inhalation Anaesthetic drugs, by M.B. Chenoweth, and Preclinical Behavioural toxicology of Inhalant solvents, by R.E. Bowman, that are probably worthwhile.

              American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology, 1988, Mar 9(1), pg 60-63, Death by nitrous oxide: an interesting case of auto-eroticism 
--sounds amusing.

              1989, Dec 10(4), pg 330-331,  
--another suicide case


Note concerning Nitrous Oxide and Florida, 
from 21 TELR 259 (Spring 1999)

Tampa outlawed rave clubs
after the well-publicized death of Kelly Hendershot a 19-year-old who died several days after falling and hitting her head at StudioRave Club in Tampa. Her friends told authorities that she had inhaled nitrous oxide inside the club.

Ordinances that criminalize raves, underscore our culture’s  antagonism to ecstatic religion — an antagonism that is brought to an extreme level whenever psychoactive sacraments are part of the picture, as they often are in raves. For many people, raves are ecstatic religion.

As regular readers of TELR know, the editor is of the opinion that the War on (Some) Drugs is more accurately a war on world views that differ from the monodirectives of exoteric book-based religion — most prominently (and powerfully) Protestantism. The early leaders of the US, including those who crafted the Free Exercise Clause, and the judges who interpreted it, were hard-core Protestants. Because precedent plays such a central role in our jurisprudence, esoteric, nondogmatic religions have often been defined away, by judge’s who hold that they are merely “personal belief systems” rather than “religions.” Only the latter are protected by the Free Exercise Clause.

The tragic death of Kelly Hendershot, which the Tampa authorities and politicians exploited to criminalize raving (and are now exploiting to outlaw inhalation of nitrous oxide), was the result of the blackout on information concerning safe use of consciousness changing substances. Just as we promote the concept and techniques of “safe sex,” we ought to be promoting techniques for safely inducing desired changes in one’s own consciousness. A problem with the national “just say no” drug policy is what happens when a person decides to say “yes.”

In the darkness of a “just say no” information blackout, those who say “yes,” and fail to take the time and effort to search out reliable information, routinely end up ingesting substances with little understanding of what to expect and without the benefit of safe-use techniques. Kelly Hendershot’s death, for example, could have been prevented had she been taught to remain in a sitting or prone position when using nitrous oxide.

The political posturing that occurred in the wake of Kelly Hendershot’s death, and which occurs everyday with respect to outlawed plants and drugs, is not about reducing deaths, violence, or injury. It’s about the hegemony asserting and re-asserting its domination. It’s about the members of the dominant world-view fearing a loss of consensus for their model of reality, and their desperate fight to maintain their perceived self-identity. It’s about their fear of other perspectives, and their frantic need to maintain a simple model of the world and a sense of control.

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