After receiving the same type of nitrous oxide that dentists give to patients, two-thirds reported improved symptoms.
A new study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, evaluated the potential for nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as a treatment for major depression. Specifically, the researchers looked at treatment-resistant depression and found that the inhaled anesthetic showed a rapid antidepressant effect in these patients.
Medical News Today reports that the study team was surprised that they were the first to come up with this concept. Nitrous oxide is known as laughing gas because it often causes people to laugh. It would seem like a simple connection to ask if that would also help individuals that are depressed. After receiving the same type of nitrous oxide that dentists give to patients, two-thirds reported improved symptoms.
There are some limitations to the study. First, the study only had twenty participants. They were all suffering from severe depression that was not responding to conventional treatment. It is unclear if the results would hold up in a larger group or a group with a greater variety of types of participants. Second, the study only evaluated symptoms twice over the course of 24 hours. Further research is needed to see if the effects hold up over a longer period of time.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression includes several depressive disorders, but two of the common types of this illness are major depression and persistent depressive disorder. Major depression means that symptoms interfere with daily activities. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes. Persistent depressive disorder refers to symptoms of depression that go on for at least two years. During that time, there may be episodes of major depression interspersed with less severe symptoms.