New study finds laughing gas relieves treatment-resistant depression

A one-hour treatment of low-dosage nitrous oxide could improve symptoms in patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression for up to two weeks with very little negative side effects, according to scientists.

University of Chicago Prof. Peter Nagele became interested in the use of nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” more commonly used in dental procedures, as a similar option to the use of ketamine, an anesthetic, as an alternative treatment for depression.

The study was first performed with 50% concentrated nitrous oxide which triggered the benefits of an antidepressant treatment, but left the subjects with some negative side effects including nausea and headache. Once the concentration was lowered to 25%, the benefits remained while the side effects lowered drastically. Additionally, in this second study, the subjects were monitored for 2 weeks (as opposed to 24 hours) and displayed benefits from the treatment for the duration of the monitoring timeline.

There are millions of people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression who cannot find relief in the same types of treatments as others. This is why the study of alternative treatments is so important. This treatment is a new possible option for those 15% of people with depression who have previously had no relief. Furthermore, the possibility for this treatment as a fast-acting solution for patients in immediate crisis could be an outstanding tool for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Similarly to other modern, alternative treatments that may not be immediately accepted by mainstream medicine, like psilocybin or ketamine, this nitrous oxide treatment is delivered in a much lower dose that its other uses which results in more of a sedative treatment than the “laughing gas” some may know it as.

Nagele hopes for the acceptance of treatments like these by practicing physicians so that the current unmet needs of patients suffering from depression can finally have an answer. Maybe one day, treatment-resistant depression will not have to be a life-long sentence.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.


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