The dangers of recreational inhalation of nitrous oxide

Wong, Joshua, Viyasar, Thevarajah, Layton, Benjamin and Lauder, Joshua (2021) The dangers of recreational inhalation of nitrous oxide. British Journal of Hospital Medicine, 82 (12). ISSN 1750-8460

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Nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, is one of the most widely used recreational drugs among teenagers in the UK. Copious inhalation of nitrous oxide may increase intra-alveolar pressure, resulting in barotrauma secondary to alveolar rupture. Pneumomediastinum and subcutaneous emphysema are common clinical findings in nitrous oxide-associated barotrauma. Prolonged nitrous oxide misuse may inactivate vitamin B12 through the alteration of its metabolism, causing demyelination of the central and peripheral nervous system. A spectrum of neurological manifestations has been reported, including peripheral neuropathy, myelopathy and subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord. Medical therapies and psychosocial interventions aiming at nitrous oxide cessation are important treatment steps to achieve partial or complete recovery from the adverse effects associated with inhalation of nitrous oxide.

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