In the midst of skyrocketing cases of depression because of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers claim to have found a nitrous oxide-based treatment for it. This treatment would be able to improve the symptoms of people suffering from treatment-resistant depression.
Nitrous oxide, AKA laughing gas, is a general-purpose gas that is stored in cartridges used to make whipped cream or in aerosol cans. Because Nitrous oxide has euphoric properties it is often diverted from its original use for inhalation by parties goers.
However, if the use of this substance is supervised, it can be beneficial, especially in the fight against resistant forms of depression. This is essentially the message from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Missouri and the University of Chicago.
In a phase 2 clinical trial, the researchers showed that the symptoms of depression improved rapidly after treatment with inhaled nitric oxide. Furthermore, they reported that the benefits could last for several weeks.
“A large percentage of patients do not respond to standard antidepressants,” the authors explain. “It is very important to find other treatments to help these patients. ”
The right dosage
On 24 patients, they tested three treatment regimens at one-month intervals. In one session, patients breathed for an hour a gas consisting of 50 percent nitric oxide and 50% oxygen.
In a second session, the same patients breathed a 25% nitric oxide solution. The third treatment, the placebo, consisted of breathing only oxygen.
The result: nitrous oxide – both in the 25% and in a 50-50 mixture with oxygen – improved depressive symptoms in 17 participants. “The differences between a 25% mixture and a 50% mixture were mainly in the duration of the antidepressant effects,” the researchers noted.
“Although the 50% dose had a greater antidepressant effect two weeks after treatment still, the 25% dose was associated with fewer side effects such as nausea.”
The results of the above study should be treated with caution as they still need to be confirmed. Most importantly nitrous oxide remains a dangerous substance that in high doses, can also cause confusion, slurred speech, and a slow or irregular heartbeat, which can in some cases lead to death.