Not an Onion Study: Laughing Gas vs Air for Treatment of Depression


“Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, has shown early promise as a potential treatment for severe depression in patients whose symptoms don’t respond to standard therapies,” stated a press release about a widely-reported study that was published in Biological Psychiatry. The press release also stated that over a third of the patients improved after being given air.

In the study, Washington University School of Medicine researchers identified 20 patients with “treatment-resistant clinical depression,” and alternately gave them laughing gas and “a placebo mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, the two main gases in the air we breathe.”

Of the 20 patients, 7 reported “mild improvement” and 7 “significant improvement” for a day after receiving the laughing gas, stated the press release. The researchers expressed hope that there would be more studies into laughing gas, and said they found it “kind of surprising that no one ever thought about using a drug that makes people laugh as a treatment for patients whose main symptom is that they’re so very sad.”

The press release also noted that, after receiving the air, five patients reported mild improvements, and two reported that they felt “significantly better.” However, one patient experienced worse symptoms the next day after receiving air. Conversely, the researchers wrote, “No patients said their symptoms worsened after treatment with nitrous oxide.”

Laughing gas studied as depression treatment (Washington University in St. Louis press release, December 9, 2014)