Laugh it off: Study shows laughing gas could treat depression

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago found that depression symptoms reduced for up to two weeks when people inhaled a low dose of laughing gas.

Laugh it off: Study shows laughing gas could treat depression

According to a new study, laughing gas – or nitrous oxide – could potentially help people suffering from depression.

Laughing gas and depression

In what is seen as a breakthrough for those patients who are struggling to find adequate help, a small study found that when people inhaled a low dose of laughing gas, their depression improved over the next two weeks.

News Scientist reports it is known that nitrous oxide can improve one’s mood as well as relieve pain – hence its original name of laughing gas – but the effect is thought to wear off quickly. It is often used as a sedative as it helps patients relax by inducing pleasurable feelings and is one of the most common anesthetics used by hospitals, dental surgeries and paramedics, as well as being available illegally in small capsules for recreational use.

How does laughing gas work?

The gas seems to chiefly affect the brain by blocking molecules on nerve cells called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. This is the same thing targeted by the stronger anaesthetic ketamine, which also relieves depression; a similar chemical to ketamine has recently been approved as a new intranasal spray treatment.

It isn’t known how NMDA receptors change one’s mood, but as the antidepressant effects of ketamine started to emerge, Peter Nagele, then an anaesthetist at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, wondered if nitrous oxide had similar potential.

Back in 2014, Nagele and his colleagues found that one hour’s inhalation of nitrous oxide reduced symptoms for up to a day in people with depression who hadn’t improved after trying standard antidepressant medicines, but the study didn’t record whether the effect lasted any longer.

“We wondered if our past concentration had been too high,” says Nagele, who is now at the University of Chicago in Illinois. “Maybe by lowering the dose, we could find the ‘Goldilocks spot’ that would maximize clinical benefit and minimize negative side effects.”

The benefit of improving your mood

And so, in the latest study, Nagele’s team looked at 24 people with treatment-resistant depression and gave them half-dose nitrous oxide, a full dose or a placebo mixture of air and oxygen. They were given one treatment a month for three months as prolonged nitrous oxide use can lead to nausea and headaches.

“As with ketamine, nitrous oxide has the benefit of improving mood quickly,” says Nagele. “Something happens in the brain – it’s like flipping a switch. But how this works, no one knows.”

After two weeks, depression symptoms for those with the half-dose treatment had reduced by an average of five points on a commonly used depression rating scale, compared with those who had the placebo, which is a significant benefit. After the full-dose treatment, depression symptoms reduced a little more, although the difference was so small that it could have arisen by chance. The half-dose group also had a much lower incidence of side effects, such as nausea, headaches and light-headedness.

“The reduction in side effects was unexpected and quite drastic, but even more excitingly, the effects after a single administration lasted for a whole two weeks,” says Nagele. “This has never been shown before. It’s a very cool finding.”

Futurity reports that despite its “laughing gas” reputation, patients who receive such a low dosage actually fall asleep. “They’re not getting high or euphoric, they get sedated,” Nagele says.

Unique properties

The researchers now hope that these results, and other similar studies, will open the minds of reluctant physicians toward the unique properties of these drugs.

“These have just been pilot studies,” says Nagele. “But we need acceptance by the larger medical community for this to become a treatment that’s actually available to patients in the real world. Most psychiatrists are not familiar with nitrous oxide or how to administer it, so we’ll have to show the community how to deliver this treatment safely and effectively. I think there will be a lot of interest in getting this into clinical practice.

 “There is a huge unmet need,” he says further. “There are millions of depressed patients who don’t have good treatment options, especially those who are dealing with suicidality. If we develop effective, rapid treatments that can really help someone navigate their suicidal thinking and come out on the other side – that’s a very gratifying line of research.”

Source : The South African More   

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Police kill three suspects allegedly involved in the murder of KZN top cop, one on the run

Three suspects believed to be responsible for the murder of Lieutenant Colonel Jabulani Ndawonde were killed in a shootout with police on Monday. A fourth suspect remains at large.

Police kill three suspects allegedly involved in the murder of KZN top cop, one on the run

Three of the four suspects believed to be involved in the armed robbery and murder of Lieutenant Colonel Jabulani Ndawonde in May were fatally wounded in a shootout with members of the law on Monday, 14 June.

Unfortunately, two dogs from the Pietermaritzburg K9 unit were killed during the gun battle between police and the suspects.


Ndawonde – who was the acting station commander of Ndwandwe SAPS – was killed near the Bhamshela taxi rank on 24 May. He was off-duty and on his way home, travelling in a marked state vehicle, when he was ambushed by unknown attackers and shot dead. Ndawonde’s vehicle crashed into a fence next to the R614 road after the shooting.

“Lieutenant Colonel Ndawonde sustained multiple gunshot wounds and his 9mm service pistol and an R5 sutomatic rifle were taken by the suspects,” said Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale.

A case of murder and armed robbery was opened and allocated to the Durban Hawks for further investigation.


The Hawks received intelligence information pertaining to the whereabouts of the suspects involved in Ndawonde’s murder – this led to the shootout that took place on Monday. The suspects were travelling in a Maroon Jeep, which matched the description police were given, from Maqongqo toward Pietermaritzburg.

A multidisciplinary team – made up of members from Hawks Serious Organised Crime Durban, Crime Intelligence, Pietermaritzburg K9 and Tactical Response Team – stopped the jeep and the suspects responded with gunfire.

“Two suspects jumped out of the vehicle and disappeared in the nearby bushes whilst the other two tried to drive back to Maqongqo but unfortunately the vehicle went down a ditch,” said Mogale. “Closer inspection revealed that the suspect driver had been fatally wounded.”

Photo: SAPS


One of the wounded suspects left a trail of blood as he and an accomplice tried to escape via the nearby sugar cane fields. “Due to the complex terrain, assistance of the Pietermaritzburg K9 was enlisted,” said Mogale.

A K9 police officer and his dog, Shaka, entered the field and followed the trail left by the suspects. Unfortunately, Shaka was shot and killed by one of the suspects he located – the suspect also let off shots at the members, who fatally wounded him when they returned fire.

“Another K9 member with a dog, Simba, joined the team in locating the third suspect,” said Mogale. “Simba engaged the suspect but unfortunately was fatally wounded and so was the suspect.”

A third K9 unit dog, Duke, was injured by the fourth suspect but fortunately it survived. “The suspect shot Duke and managed to flee deeper into the dense bushes,” said Mogale. Duke was airlifted to hospital for urgent medical care and is recovering.

The fourth suspect remains at large.


The provincial Head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal, Major General Lesetja Senona, praised the multidisciplinary team for ensuring that justice was brought to the Ndawonde family and offered his condolences to the K9 Pietermaritzburg unit for the losses suffered.

“We shall continue to ensure that communities are protected from these criminals and justice prevails,” said Senona.

The multidisciplinary team recovered four unlicensed weapons – including a R4 rifle, a R5 rifle and two 9mm pistols – along with a dashboard blue light and a box of ammunition. Mogale said 13 counts of attempted murder, possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, malicious damage to property and inquest dockets have been opened for investigation.


After the incident, police discovered that two of the deceased suspects were allegedly involved in the “massacre” of six people in Marianhill, KwaZulu-Natal in 2017.

The pair were found guilty of five counts of murder and one attempted murder by the Durban High Court on 26 March 2021 but they escaped from the court holding cells during the recess after they were found guilty.


K9 Unit Members: Watch Duke airlifted to hospital for treatment
Source : The South African More   

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