Nitrous oxide consumption for a "high" can harm the brain and lead to mental health issues - Science


Experts in the field of mental health have advised Nigerians against inhaling

nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, because it may harm their brains and nerves.

They claimed that those who use nitrous oxide to get "high" run the risk of developing schizophrenia or psychosis.

The psychiatrists emphasized that although the drug induces a momentary feeling of relaxation and exhilaration, it is more harmful than cocaine.

Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas that is frequently used for sedation and pain relief, but it is also used by some people to feel drunk or euphoric, according to Healthline.

Several videos of young people inhaling gas from inflated balloons to get high have recently become popular on social media.

One of the films showed the chemical being poured into balloons from canisters before being ingested.

However, mental health professionals cautioned that the new trend may increase occurrences of nerve damage and mental illnesses across the nation in an exclusive interview with ONIKEWIDE Healthwise.

According to Dr. Jaiyeola Kajero, a consultant psychiatrist at Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Oshodi Annex, nitrous oxide causes the brain to experience a state of euphoria, which is an abnormally high emotion that typically makes the person happy.

Continual usage of the drug, he continued, could cause slowed heartbeats and a heart attack.

He added that nitrous oxide abuse can also result in a vitamin B12 cobalamin deficiency, which can harm the brain and nerves.

He claimed that it can also result in tingling and numbness in the feet.

It can really result in bewilderment, disorientation, and terror, but people who are involved could feel in control of the situation. It conveys a sense of being quite high up.

"If you inhale it improperly without using a balloon or another device and take it straight from the canister, it could actually suffocate you, cause burns to your lips, lungs, and throat, and cause you to feel as though you are suffocating. Some people have been known to pass away while doing this since it deprives you of oxygen.

Anaemia and liver damage could result from a vitamin B12 deficiency, too. It might result in chills, hallucinations, and delusions.

"The effects of vitamin B12 deficiency might last a lifetime. Not all impacts can be undone, but some can.

Nitrous oxide is a painkiller that is given to hospital patients undergoing medical operations, according to Dr. Sunday Amosu, another psychiatrist.

He regretted, however, that continued exposure to nitrous oxide outside of the scope of medical necessity has negative effects, particularly on neurological disorders connected to brain communication.

According to Amosu, who oversees drug addiction treatment education research at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, long-term use of "laughing gas" can cause people to experience symptoms such as exhaustion, irregular breathing, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, digestive issues, numbness in the fingers and toes, difficulty walking, and poor vision.

The psychiatrist insisted that the drug damages neurons and leaves an abuser with permanent brain damage.

We are aware of our need on oxygen, he continued. Glucose and oxygen are essential for the brain. When nitrous oxide dominates, the brain will experience hypoxia, which is how the nitrous oxide damages the brain.

"It is a problem for public health. Numerous studies about nitrous oxide are available today. It is misused similarly to heroin and cocaine.People should avoid this chemical since it has a negative impact on the central nervous system. We must now inform people about nitrous oxide and all other addictive substances.

"Common mental diseases like schizophrenia or psychosis can result in hallucinations or hearing voices that other people are unable to hear. Additionally, it can result in the person being admitted. And as you are aware, when someone seeks treatment for an issue like this, it indicates that they have introduced disease into the family, where other members may contract it due to a genetic predisposition.

The mental health specialist underlined the importance of drug education being instilled in households to reduce the prevalence in society while referring to the substance as a "hydra-headed monster."

According to Dr. Samuel Aladejare, a Senior Registrar in Psychiatry at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, although the effects are temporary, nitrous oxide may make it harder to feel pain and may have an impact on the neurological system that controls muscles.

"In terms of mental health, there may be a floating sensation known as dissociation, sadness, memory issues, hallucinations, and strange thoughts that are typically fleeting. Falls, mishaps, and other physical damage could result from these emotions.

These effects are typically influenced by the amount and duration of consumption. The way that each person reacts to the chemical depends on a variety of factors, including weight, gender, and body type.

Young people are often advised to avoid them since they can occasionally be coupled with other substances and cause acute poisoning, which can cause loss of consciousness, convulsions, and even death.

"Some young people have been known to use it while wearing a nylon bag around their heads to intensify the effectiveness. This is risky because it's simple for someone to die while performing it.

The doctor recommended the government to control the substance's importation and sale as a way to lessen its availability on the market.

The government has to be well-informed on the risks posed by nitrous oxide, he continued. In order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, there should be controls over its selling.

To deal with this new threat to society, they should also strengthen the system for providing mental health services and hire more people.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction highlighted out the risks and harms connected with the drug, which is now widely available, affordable, and popular among some young people, in a paper titled "Recreational use of nitrous oxide: a growing concern for Europe".

The study reviewed the chemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology of the gas as well as the current state, hazards, and reactions to its recreational use in Europe.

In the report, seven case studies from Denmark, Ireland, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom were given.

The widespread availability of tiny 8-gram nitrous oxide cartridges, which are used to fill balloons from which the gas is breathed, is another significant aspect that has been connected to the rise in the use of the gas for recreational purposes.

These cartridges, which are frequently used as the propellant in aerosol cans to create whipped cream, are affordable and simple to purchase from reliable vendors like supermarkets, convenience stores, and internet sellers.

According to the study, "A lucrative and growing supply chain has emerged, with specialized internet shops explicitly pushing the gas for its recreational use or supplying it under the pretense that it can be used to manufacture whipped cream.

"The number of poisonings has increased in tandem with the growth of nitrous oxide users. Even though they are still rare, these poisonings frequently follow heavier or more regular usage.

The data revealed a slight but appreciable increase in reports of poisoning to poison control centers.

It showed that incidences increased in Denmark from 16 in 2015 to 73 in 2021 while cases increased in France from 10 in 2017 to 134 in 2020.

The Netherlands saw a rise in their score from 13 in 2015 to 144 in 2020.

Since 2017, a large number of cases reported to poison centers have featured neurotoxicity—varying degrees of damage to the nervous system—caused by the body's irreversible inactivation of vitamin B12, which is crucial for normal nerve function.

Serious frostbite (burns brought on by exposure to the freezing gas expelled from the container) and lung injuries, which are often brought on by larger cylinders due to high pressure, are further causes for worry.

Additionally, at least one nation (the Netherlands) has seen a sharp rise in gas-related auto accidents.

However, the report emphasized that it is crucial to understand that the vast majority of people do not consume nitrous oxide. Those that do usually do so infrequently and in relatively little amounts.

Similar to this, a study found that nitrous oxide consumption increases the risk of nerve injury in young people, particularly boys.

The study, which examined patients hospitalized to a hospital in England, found that young Asian men were disproportionately affected neurologically.

It is the largest comprehensive clinical case series of recreational users of laughing gas to date, and it is being led by academics from Queen Mary University of London.

It looked into a group of 119 young people who used nitrous oxide and developed neurological issues.

The bulk of the patients (57%) had an Asian or British Asian ancestry, with London having the largest percentage (73%).

In east London (73%), Birmingham (54%), and Manchester (29%), the majority of instances included people of Asian or Asian British ancestry.

Black patients made up 7.5% of the total, while patients of mixed races made up 6% of the total. White patients made up 19% of the total.

Ethnicity was either unknown or not noted in almost one in ten instances.

Between 2014 and 2022, these individuals were hospitalized to hospitals in three major English cities: London (56), Birmingham (35), and Manchester (28).

The age range of persons in need of care was 14 to 39, despite the average age being 22.

Although almost a third of the patients in London were female, the survey indicated that three out of four patients were men.

The study discovered a link between nitrous oxide usage on a weekly basis and high levels of methylmalonic acid.

This biomarker implies reduced vitamin B12 functioning, suggesting that nerve injury is not just caused by a B12 deficit but also by a functional deficiency.

This indicates that although the body may have an adequate supply of B12, it may not be functioning properly.

Intramuscular injections of vitamin B12 are the main form of treatment, but it's thought that these injections work best when nitrous oxide use is also stopped.

In order to raise awareness of the importance of prevention among young people in east London about the neurological dangers linked with nitrous oxide, the researchers in this group started a campaign called "N2O: Know the Risks."


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