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Who would’ve thought – laughing gas could be useful in treating depression

Posted May 1, 2019

Nitrous oxide is commonly known as laughing gas. And not for nothing – it used to be used as anaesthetic in dentistry. In fact, in many places it is still used rather widely due to being relatively cheap and extremely easy to administer. Now scientists from the University of Helsinki found that laughing gas could actually be useful in treating symptoms of depression.

Laughing gas is commonly used in movies for comedic effect, but it is actually useful as a therapy for depression. Image credit: Keystone Studios via Wikimedia

Ketamine is actually famous for the quick relief that it provides those suffering from depression. It works extremely quickly and efficiently. However, scientists are not sure why Ketamine works so well. It can also cause some adverse side effects. But scientists know another drug that could provide a similar relief – nitrous oxide. So far, however, Finnish scientists have only demonstrated the effectiveness of laughing gas on rodent models, but in the near future clinical trials could commence and it could become a viable therapy. The best thing is that scientists know how it works.

Experiments revealed that laughing gas increases and molecular mechanisms, associated with rapid antidepressant effects, in the cortex. These sort of effects have previously been observed in Ketamine and electroconvulsive therapies. In fact, laughing gas works very similar to Ketamine – both of these drugs intrinsic homeostatic changes in the brain. This causes rapid amelioration of depression. Laughing gas works very rapidly and delivers instant relief, but it does not wear off instantly. Instead, some of its effects linger for quite some time.

Samuel Kohtala, one of the authors of the study, said: “Like throwing a rock into a still pond, the impact of the stone on the surface of the water sets the events in motion, but the subsequent waves linger on for a long time. We think that these waves may be equally important as the initial impact”.

Interestingly, the mechanisms triggered by laughing gas (or Ketamine for that matter) are closely related to brain waves, typical of deep sleep. Scientists say that this is quite a common observation – sleep seems to be at the core when it comes to a rapid relief from symptoms of depression. This is why scientists are beginning to be interested in it more – the role of sleep in the recovery from depression hasn’t been researched much.

Depression is debilitating condition. It severely affects quality of life and often ends in death of the patient. People often overlook depression, thinking that it is just a normal sadness. However, it rarely passes by itself. If you think you might have depression, consult your doctor as soon as possible. Treatments are available and, hopefully, laughing gas therapy is going to be one of them soon.


Source: University of Helsinki

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