Could laughing gas help people with severe depression?

Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Of those, an estimated 80 percent see improvement of symptoms with regular treatment, though nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment. SEE ALSO: How could Botox cure depression? New hope may be on the horizon, however, for individuals with severe depression who have not responded well to traditional therapy. The answer for these patients may lie in the use of nitrous oxide, better known to the public as laughing gas. Nitrous oxide is a colorless, odorless gas, used primarily in dental practices as a form of anesthetic. The compound was discovered in 1772  by Joseph Priestly and then used heavily throughout Europe during the late 1800’s, particularly among German surgeons. Laughing gas has a mild sedative and analgesic ability, and is not used for procedures where patients need to be fully unconscious. It has the unique side-effect of making people feel giddy. “It’s 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,” lead researcher Peter Nagele, assistant professor of anesthesiology, told MNT. Nagele’s team evaluated 20 patients with severe depression whose illness was not responding to conventional treatment. Those patients were then administered a placebo or laughing gas on two separate occasions. Immediately after treatment and then a day post-therapy, study participants were rated on their level of sadness, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and insomnia. What the researchers found was two-thirds of the patients reported an improvement in depression symptoms when treated with the laughing gas. “When they received nitrous oxide, many of the patients reported a rapid and significant improvement. Although some patients also reported feeling better after breathing the placebo gas, it was clear that the overall pattern observed was that nitrous oxide improved depression above and beyond the placebo,” said study co-author Charles R. Conway, associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University. The findings don’t come as a surprise to many medical experts; laughter has been known as a mood booster for a long time. The Mayo Clinic indicates laughing: Stimulates organ function Relieves the body’s stress response Soothes tension Improves the immune system Relieves pain Improves overall mood The clinic notes that even forced laughter, laughing when you don’t feel happy, causes the above positive changes to a limited extent. SEE ALSO: This works better than anything else for depressionThe post Could laughing gas help people with severe depression? appeared first on Voxxi.

The same laughing gas your dentist uses could help relieve severe depression. (Shutterstock)

Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Of those, an estimated 80 percent see improvement of symptoms with regular treatment, though nearly two out of three people suffering with depression do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment.

SEE ALSO: How could Botox cure depression?

New hope may be on the horizon, however, for individuals with severe depression who have not responded well to traditional therapy. The answer for these patients may lie in the use of nitrous oxide, better known to the public as laughing gas.

Nitrous oxide is a colorless, odorless gas, used primarily in dental practices as a form of anesthetic. The compound was discovered in 1772  by Joseph Priestly and then used heavily throughout Europe during the late 1800’s, particularly among German surgeons. Laughing gas has a mild sedative and analgesic ability, and is not used for procedures where patients need to be fully unconscious. It has the unique side-effect of making people feel giddy.

“It’s 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,” lead researcher Peter Nagele, assistant professor of anesthesiology, told MNT.

Nagele’s team evaluated 20 patients with severe depression whose illness was not responding to conventional treatment. Those patients were then administered a placebo or laughing gas on two separate occasions. Immediately after treatment and then a day post-therapy, study participants were rated on their level of sadness, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and insomnia.

Laughing improves mood
Even forced laughing has positive effects on the body. (Shutterstock)

What the researchers found was two-thirds of the patients reported an improvement in depression symptoms when treated with the laughing gas.

“When they received nitrous oxide, many of the patients reported a rapid and significant improvement. Although some patients also reported feeling better after breathing the placebo gas, it was clear that the overall pattern observed was that nitrous oxide improved depression above and beyond the placebo,” said study co-author Charles R. Conway, associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University.

The findings don’t come as a surprise to many medical experts; laughter has been known as a mood booster for a long time. The Mayo Clinic indicates laughing:

  • Stimulates organ function
  • Relieves the body’s stress response
  • Soothes tension
  • Improves the immune system
  • Relieves pain
  • Improves overall mood

The clinic notes that even forced laughter, laughing when you don’t feel happy, causes the above positive changes to a limited extent.

SEE ALSO: This works better than anything else for depression

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