All About Nitrous Oxide – A Harm Reduction Guide


  • Laughing gas is made up of nitrogen oxide, a natural chemical compound which, at room temperature, is a non-flammable, colourless gas with slightly sweet, almost metallic taste.
  • Nitrous oxide (a.k.a., “nitrous”) belongs to a class of drugs called “dissociative anesthetics,” which separate perception from sensation. There are several other drugs in this category including ketamine, PCP and DXM.
  • Nitrous oxide has been used recreationally since 1799 by British royalty.  Today, it is used medically as a mild anesthetic in combination with oxygen and has been used for over a century, most commonly in dentistry.
  • Nitrous Oxide is known around the globe by many names including Whip-its, Whippets, Laughing Gas, the Epiphany Drug, or Hippy Crack.  In Australia and New Zealand, they are known as Nangs.


  • Nitrous is commonly sold in pressurized, small canisters for the actual use of making whipped cream (hence the name “whip-its”).  You will see the dispenser on your next trip to Starbucks if your drink comes with whipped cream.  These canisters are for sale in almost every smoke shop even though the boxes clearly state they are to be used for making whipped cream only.  Large tanks can also be purchased or rented.
  • Whipped cream canisters are typically dispensed into a whipped cream dispenser and then used to fill a balloon.  From there, the gas is inhaled.


  • Nitrous oxide produces varying effects from analgesia, depersonalisation, derealisation, dizziness, to euphoria.  The effect is very short typically lasting around a minute or so.
  • In addition to the effects above, nitrous has the ability to produce auditory distortions. For some, external sounds become quiet and muffled.  For others, sounds can provide a very unique auditory distortion called flanging in which sounds have a pulsing or vibrating quality.  This is described as the “wah wah’s.”
  • Nitrous has the ability to reduce anxiety in the short term and can produce a mild euphoria, increasing the propensity to laugh.
  • The effects of nitrous are almost instantaneous and typically last less than a minute. This can lead to people using multiple cartridges in a row to extend and/or intensify the experience.  Using multiple back-to-back cartridges can lead to hallucinations.


  • First and foremost, sit down. The effects from nitrous oxide are almost immediate and include the loss of motor control and balance so the risk of falling is significant.  Don’t risk it, sit down!
  • Always use the buddy system.  As the effect typically lasts less than a minute, there is no reason to not be able to safely take turns. 
  • Oxygen, you NEED it!  Even with one canister, your oxygen saturation rate can drop to as low as 20 causing diffusion hypoxia.  Please make sure you are taking breaths in between each inhalation as a single breath will increase your saturation rate to almost normal levels.
  • Nitrous has the ability for addiction potential.  Due to the short-lasting effects, many people will feel the need to consume more and more nitrous to feel the same effects.
  • Nitrous will quickly deplete Vitamin B12 and can lead to serious and permanent neurologic deficit.  Always supplement with Vitamin B12 before and after any nitrous use.
  • Do not inhale nitrous directly from the whip-it canister or cracker, just don’t do it.  Nitrous canisters are under very high pressure and freezing temperatures, when consumed directly from the whipped cream dispenser can cause severe damage to the lips, throat, and lungs. as well as burns to the throat and lips. A Simple way to eliminate this risk is to release the gas into a balloon or a larger dispenser first and allow it to warm up before inhaling.

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