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Small Study Suggests Unusual Depression Treatment

A pool of 24 people got relief after short treatments with laughing gas
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2021 11:48 AM CDT

(Newser)

Can laughing gas treat severe depression? Scientists are starting to ask that question, and the answer is looking like a promising maybe. In a small study—only 24 people, 96% of whom were white and 70% were women—nitrous oxide lifted the symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. A larger trial is planned, Stat reports. Nitrous oxide—laughing gas—affects the same receptors as ketamine, which was approved in 2019 for depression that doesn’t abate with other drugs. Both work by blocking N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, New Scientist reports. When the ketamine treatment was shown to work, anesthetist Peter Nagele, one of the study’s authors, wondered if nitrous oxide would, too.

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What the study showed was that after spending an hour breathing in 50% nitrous oxide, most participants felt better. Some people experience headaches, nausea, and other side-effects from laughing gas, so the researchers tried out 25% treatments, too, which seemed to work nearly as well. The participants were their own control group, each getting the 50% and 25% treatments plus one of just oxygen, and comparing the results for themselves, per NBC News. The small group, overall, reported feeling a lot better, and the small study gives scientists something to work with to plan a bigger trial.
(Read more scientific study stories.)

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