New study shows that laughing gas might have the same benefits as ketamine in curing depression and have fewer side effects, such as long-term addiction. Laughing gas is a mix of oxygen molecules and nitrous oxide used by dentists to make their patients feel less anxious about the procedure and ease their pain.
Ketamine is another very effective antidepressant that is now largely used by party-goers for its quick euphoric out-of-body effect. Ketamine is also largely employed as an emergency solution to calm suicidal people since it is a lot faster than standard medication that requires about four to six weeks to show visible results.
Like ketamine, nitrous oxide also inhibits the activity of NMDA brain receptor. However, previous research revealed that long-term ketamine use leads to brain damage and neurotoxicity. So, researchers at St. Louis Washington University wanted to see if this drug could be replaced by the less harmful nitrous oxide.
In a small study, a group of psychiatrists and anaesthetists analyzed 20 patients’ with hard to treat depression reaction to both nitrous oxide and a placebo.
Every patient was subjected to an hour-long session of inhaled nitrous oxide followed by a placebo session one week later. The doctors recorded their patients’ mood 2 hours, 24 hours and a week after their sessions.
The next day following the nitrous oxide session, three of the patients said their depressive symptoms were almost gone, while seven said that their condition had greatly improved. Seven other patients said their condition had mildly improved, but no patient said that they felt even worse.
The next day after the placebo session, none of the patients said their condition had improved, while one of them reported he felt worse than before.
However, placebo seems to have also significant effect – two patients said their condition had greatly improved, while five participants said they felt mild improvement the next day after the placebo session.
Dr. Peter Nagele, anaesthesiologist at Washington University, said his team had no clue why ketamine and laughing gas had such an instant effect on depression. They were only able to find that by inhibiting NMDAs’ activity, the two antidepressants were actually blocking glutamate’s action on the brain. Scientists don’t know, however, the exact mechanism of this process.
Although, nitrous oxide is simpler to administer than ketamine, it also has some mild side effects – nausea and vomiting after first dosage, headaches and anxiety and altered vitamin B12 metabolism (in patients from a previous study). Despite all this, laughing gas is safer than ketamine in treating drug resistant depression, researchers say.
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