Laughing Gas May Treat Depression

DECEMBER 16, 2014

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, may be beneficial for treatment-resistant depression, according to the results of a preliminary study published in Biological Psychiatry.


Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied 20 individuals whose depression had failed to respond to standard antidepressant treatment. Participants were randomized to receive either 1 hour of inhaled nitrous oxide or placebo. 

Depression scores were assessed at 2 and 24 hours after administration. A second treatment session was conducted 1 week later. 


The study authors concluded that patients treated with nitrous oxide had a statistically significant reduction in depression scores compared with the placebo gloup. At 24 hours, 4 patients (20%) had a treatment response to nitrous oxide, defined as a ≥50% reduction on the depression scale, compared with 1 patient (5%) who received the placebo. Three patients (15%) had a complete resolution of depressive symptoms with nitrous oxide, versus no patients in the placebo group. 


Additionally, depression scores in some patients treated with laughing gas were significantly lower at 1 week, indicating a sustained treatment effect.


A high number of adverse events occurred in the nitrous oxide group, though they were all mild and temporary, as no serious adverse events were reported.


Although the mechanism for nitrous oxide in depression is not well understood, it is believed to function similar to ketamine by blocking the N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptor, which has been linked to the biology of depression.


Despite the study’s promising results, the researchers acknowledged that subsequent studies are needed to determine appropriate dosing strategies and the clinical applicability of nitrous oxide for depression in a larger and more diverse population.

Timothy O'Shea, PharmD
Timothy O'Shea, PharmD
Timothy O'Shea, PharmD, is a Clinical Pharmacist working at a large health insurance plan on the east coast. Additionally he works per diem at a retail pharmacy chain. He graduated from MCPHS University - Boston in 2015 and subsequently completed a PGY-1 Managed Care Pharmacy Residency. His professional interests include pharmacy legislation and managed care pharmacy. He can be followed on Twitter at @toshea125.