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Danger Of Inhaling Nitrous Oxide

Published: December 19, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,

How dangerous is it to inhale pure nitrous oxide mixed with air 50/50 in a baloon?

Signed: Danger Of Inhaling Nitrous Oxide

Dear Danger Of Inhaling Nitrous Oxide,


Nitrous Oxide is considered an inhalant – inhalants are a class of drugs where a temporary high is achieved when fumes, gases or other substances are breathed in and absorbed into the body through the lungs. Negative consequences of inhalant use generally include:

  • Impaired physical coordination and impaired judgment, at times leading to irresponsible or dangerous behaviors.
  • Damaged breathing passages, leading to severe coughing, painful inflammation, and nosebleeds.
  • Mental confusion, hallucinations, and delusions of persecution (paranoia).
  • By depressing the central nervous system, inhalants may dangerously hinder the activity of the nerves that control breathing. The resulting respiratory depression may cause unconsciousness, or even death.
  • Shortage of oxygen in the lungs.
  • Fatal irregularity of heartbeat (arrhythmia) or complete heart arrest.
  • Increased risks of permanent brain damage, with effects such as poor memory, extreme mood swings, tremors, and seizures.
  • Organic solvents are the most dangerous types of inhalants, as they can cause fatal damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as to the heart and nervous system.


Nitrous oxide, commonly called “laughing gas” was first introduced in the 1850’s as an anesthetic. This compound of nitrogen and oxygen is still used medicinally, particularly by dentists. Possession of nitrous oxide is illegal in most areas of the United States for the purpose of inhaling or ingesting when not under the care of a physician or dentist. Nitrous Oxide should never be confused with Nitric Oxide, an extremely poisonous gas.


The recreational use of inhaling nitrous oxide from a balloon can lead to:

  • Dizziness, dissociation and temporary loss of motor control.
  • Death can result is the gas is inhaled in such a way that not enough oxygen is breathed in.
  • Anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin
  • Neuropathy, a disease of the peripheral nervous system
  • Tinnitus, a phenomenon of the nervous system connected to the ear, characterized by perception of a ringing or beating sound with no external source.
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • In chronic use it can be teratogenic, the development of abnormal cell masses during fetal growth, causing physical defects in the fetus.
  • It can be habit-forming, mainly because of the short-lived effects.


There are additional negative consequences when inhaling nitrous oxide from any type of can or tank:

  • The lungs can collapse from high pressure levels, forcing air into the chest cavity
  • It can cause frostbite since the gas is very cold when it is discharged.


Signed: TeenHealthFX