Underrated party drug: Doctors warn of nerve damage caused by laughing gas

The German Society for Neurology (DGN) warns against the consumption of supposedly harmless laughing gas.

Underrated party drug: Doctors warn of nerve damage caused by laughing gas

The German Society for Neurology (DGN) warns against the consumption of supposedly harmless laughing gas. The DGN explained that inhalation of the anesthetic gas could result in severe neurological complaints or blood count disorders.

“Laughing gas is currently conquering Germany as a party drug,” the statement said. "It is considered to be supposedly low-risk because the effect wears off after just a few minutes - but that is a massive fallacy!"

Many of those affected concealed the fact that they had consumed laughing gas in the clinic. This often makes it difficult to make a quick diagnosis - and thus to start therapy quickly with a greater chance of avoiding long-term damage. Together with the German Brain Foundation, the DGN is calling for an information offensive, especially for younger people. Because the danger of laughing gas is underestimated: "Very few people know that they can suffer serious, possibly lifelong consequences."

Euphoria and hallucinations

Nitrous oxide is nitrous oxide (N2O). Painless surgery became possible for the first time more than 200 years ago with the gas, which has an anesthetic effect in large quantities. Nowadays, other anesthetics are usually used. The DGN said that laughing gas was also used as a party drug early on. "It was already consumed for fun at fairs 200 years ago - and is currently experiencing a disastrous renaissance."

The anesthetic gas is increasingly being used to lighten the mood and create feelings of happiness and hallucinations, even euphoria. Consumption is increasing, particularly among teenagers and young adults. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, the number of cases of abuse known to the State Criminal Police Office more than tripled from 2022 to 2023.

According to the DGN, what is dangerous is that the cartridges are as cold as minus 55 degrees when used. Direct inhalation can cause severe injuries to fingers or lips, as well as lung tears due to the high pressure of the compressed, expanding gas. However, neurologists are particularly concerned about the possible neurological consequences. They ranged from loss of consciousness due to oxygen being expelled from the lungs to symptoms of paralysis and even brain damage.

Sales and consumption legal

Chronic consumption can also result in a B12 deficiency, which in turn causes serious blood disorders. In addition, neurological disorders such as so-called funicular myelosis (spinal cord damage) and peripheral neuropathy (disorder of one or more nerves in the peripheral nervous system) are possible. “If the B12 deficiency is not recognized in time, these consequences are sometimes no longer reversible,” it said.

“We are seeing more and more people in the clinic seeking medical advice with acute, subacute or long-term neurological consequences,” explained Gereon Fink, board member of the German Brain Foundation and former president of the DGN. "They usually don't mention nitrous oxide consumption at the initial presentation, probably because most people don't make a connection at all, especially when it comes to long-term consequences."

The sale and consumption of laughing gas are not prohibited in Germany. In other countries such as the Netherlands and Great Britain, however, it is already classified as a drug, the DGN said. France has banned sales to minors.

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