Laughing Gas Can Help Treat Depression, Small Study Finds

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PolygamousRanchKid shares a report from Gizmodo: A dose of laughing gas may just help some people with hard-to-treat depression, suggests a new, small clinical trial published Wednesday. The study found that people who inhaled nitrous oxide reported improvements in their depression symptoms afterward. It also found that people felt similar improvements with a smaller dose as they did with a larger one, but experienced substantially fewer side effects. Nitrous oxide (NO) is a colorless, non-flammable gas at room temperature that’s long been used as an anesthetic and sometimes as a recreational drug, due to the euphoria and dissociative hallucinations it can cause upon inhalation. But several years ago, Peter Nagele, a researcher and trauma anesthesiologist at the University of Chicago, and his colleagues began looking into nitrous oxide as a potential treatment for depression.

The small trial recruited 28 participants in a crossover design, which is when all the volunteers go through each of the trial’s conditions and their responses are compared to one another (as opposed to two or more distinct groups that either take the drug or placebo). The team found that these volunteers on average experienced a greater improvement in depression symptoms when they took the nitrous oxide at either dose than they did after taking the placebo (based on the primary survey they completed) — an improvement that lasted for up to two weeks. Some doctors and patients had been using generic ketamine, taken through IV, as an experimental depression treatment for years. But Johnson & Johnson didn’t fund expensive clinical trials to secure an approval for ketamine as a depression treatment; it instead developed a patentable form taken as a nasal spray, called esketamine. That sort of commercialization isn’t something that’s possible with nitrous oxide, according to Nagale. The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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