Laughing gas: effect, danger, how many deaths in France?

The use of nitrous oxide, nicknamed 'laughing gas' or 'proto', for recreational purposes has become widespread among young people. Composition, symptoms, dangers, sale in France, accidents and deaths... Inventory with Professor Michel Lejoyeux, head of the psychiatry and addictology department at Bichat hospital.

  Laughing gas: effect, danger, how many deaths in France?

In recent years, laughing gas has been the subject of diversion of use among young people who use it to its euphoric properties . Yet this practice can have serious health implications.

What is laughing gas?

Better known as 'laughing gas' or 'therefore' , the nitrous oxide is originally a gas used in the medical environment as analgesic or anesthetic. It is also used in the food industry as a propellant, for example in whipped cream siphons . ' This is an anesthetic gas that the where has long been used in medicine. It is very well tolerated when used for brief anesthesia but nitrous oxide has become a dope recreational whose use is totally trivialized , considered normal. Students do not have the perception of its dangerousness ', comments Professor Michel Lejoyeux.

  Picture of'une ampoule de protoxyde d'azote
Photo of nitrous oxide ampoules

Youth Laughing Gas: A Growing Trend

The latest figures published by the Considered and the ANSM demonstrate a very clear increase in cases of nitrous oxide poisoning among young people. ' 134 cases reported to poison control centers in 2020 compared to 46 in 2019, 254 reports to addiction monitoring centers in 2020 compared to 47 in 2019'. Figures corroborated by the French Association of Addictovigilance Centers in a press release dated June 23, 2022 . According to her, the number of cases of serious health complications linked to the non-medical use of nitrous oxide has been multiplied by 10 since 2019. The public concerned is young, with subjects aged 22 years old on average , of which about 1/10 are minors. In half of the cases, consumption is daily and can reach up to ten bottles per day. Faced with this observation, a law aimed at preventing the dangerous use of laughing gas was enacted on June 1, 2021. The text prohibits the sale of nitrous oxide to minors in shops, public places and on the internet, regardless of its packaging. A ban that does not apply to adults, except in certain places: tobacconists, bars and nightclubs.

What is the composition of laughing gas?

In the medical environment, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a liquefied gas contained in bottles. These are composed of 90% liquid and 10% gas. It is administered by inhalation, and mixed with oxygen. It aims to reduce pain without inducing a state of unconsciousness.

Where is nitrous oxide found?

Nitrous oxide is used in the medical environment, where it is subjected to drug regulation . The industrial sector also uses it as an oxidizer. In the food industry, it acts as a compression gas for kitchen drains (to make emulsions or whipped creams). Laughing gas is therefore very easy to find, both online than in supermarkets .

What are the side effects of laughing gas?

When used in a medical setting, laughing gas is very well tolerated and its effect wears off in a few minutes. In particular, it is offered to pregnant women in the labor room to relieve the pain of contractions . In a recreational context, the inhalation of laughing gas causes immediate adverse effects and others, in the longer term. The immediate risks are:

  • Asphyxiation from lack of oxygen
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Burn by the cold of the gas expelled from the cartridge
  • Loss of cough reflex
  • disorientation
  • Risk of chute

In case of repeated consumption, disorders involving the pronostic vital may occur: a risk of asphyxia, cardiovascular complications with in particular cardiac arrhythmias, psychic disorders ( addiction ) and neurological damage that can be severe.

' The main dangers of laughing gas are behavioral problems and nerve damage who can be irreversible . There can be extremely damaging or even deadly consequences. Inhaling laughing gas is considered fun when it really isn't! The most serious damage we see in the emergency room is neurological damage, including persistent gas-induced paralysis. We also see a lot of burns because it is gas which comes out of the cartridge very cold and which can burn mouth at the time of inhalation, asphyxia and loss of consciousness ', indicates the head of the psychiatry and addictology department at Bichat hospital.

Can laughing gas cause death?

Inhaled regularly and in large doses, laughing gas can cause death by asphyxiation and heart failure . The case of a 22 year old young man, deceased on August 6, 2022 in Vitry-sur-Seine, was reported in the media. He was the victim of cardiopulmonary arrest following inhalation of nitrous oxide.

Where is it sold in France?

In France, it is possible to obtain laughing gas very easily in the form of cartridges, in supermarkets and on the Internet. ' let's remember that its use is not trivial, that it is anything but playful and that you have to be vigilant. You can party perfectly without substance support! It becomes imperative to get out of this systematic intoxication with toxic products. And when parents wonder how to get their children to stop taking Tramadol , well they start themselves by quitting smoking! “, insists the specialist.

Thanks to Professor Michel Lejoyeux, head of the psychiatry and addictology department at Bichat hospital, author of En bonne santé avec Montaigne, published by Robert Laffont