Can you help me find more information about my transcendental experience while on laughing gas at the dentist?
May 17, 2011 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me find more information about my transcendental experience while on laughing gas at the dentist? I recently had Nitrous oxide while at the dentist, and the side effects were deep insights into my life, and a crystal clear understanding of problems that were before vague. I'd like more information about this phenomenon and I'd like to hear others' experience with this gas.
posted by Patrick Leo to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's called euphoria, which is a common side effect of nitrous oxide inhalation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2011

Whippets. Balloons. Go to any Jam band concert. Here is a Straight Dope on the issue.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I strongly feel that it was not euphoria. I did not have any sense of contentment, happiness, or well being, rather I just had clear insights into problems that had previously confounded me.
posted by Patrick Leo at 1:46 PM on May 17, 2011

I'd like to hear others' experience with this gas.

I've had it a few times to help relax me, as I used to be a raging dentalphobe who always seemed to need work done. The first time, I ended up pondering what it would be like to be a color (I decided green would be the best one to be); another time I remember entertaining the idea that maybe the hum of the drill was actually the chirping of birds in my teeth that needed to be released.

It's hard to explain the state of mind it puts me in - it wasn't that I really thought there were birds in my teeth, for instance; just that I was open to contemplating the idea for a while. I guess I'd describe it as feeling more susceptible to the types of things that maybe my brain comes up with all the time, but that usually get "censored" out of conscious thought immediately due to sheer ridiculousness ... maybe you were similarly more open to things that for whatever reason typically get suppressed by your own mind?
posted by DingoMutt at 1:49 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd like to hear others' experience with this gas.

I just had nitrous for the first time recently, and it was AWFUL. I went from being completely unconcerned about my dental procedure (I do not and never have had dentalphobia, it was just 2 non-impacted wisdom teeth, and I was seriously not concerned) to SOBBING after they put on the nitrous and told me what I could and couldn't eat (specifically, it was that I couldn't have nachos that caused the crying) and fear at the face of the oral surgeon with the mask on so I couldn't see her mouth. Never never never again.

I hear this is a super rare response, but when I told my dad about it after, he told me that he had had similar bad experiences on nitrous but didn't want to tell me about them before I did it because he didn't want to worry me, as most people don't find it to be so very unpleasant.
posted by brainmouse at 1:54 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

brainmouse, I had a similarly awful reaction to nitrous. I was about twelve and started panicking when it started to take effect. They took it away, and I dealt with the extractions fine.

I'm inclined to agree with DingoMutt, that it let your mind relax enough that you were able to incorporate thoughts you might usually unconsciously suppress, and make connections between things that might usually seem too disparate to be related.
posted by bassjump at 2:05 PM on May 17, 2011

Nope, it's not simple euphoria, any kind of altered state of consciousness (even just getting drunk) can allow you to have insights like that, and the insights are as real as any other thought or feeling you have. Sometimes a radically new perspective just lets you see or understand things that you wouldn't have thought of without it. It doesn't mean that you're smarter or better on that drug than off it.

The great psychologist William James had some thoughts on Nitrous Oxide intoxication.
Now this, only a thousand-fold enhanced, was the effect upon me of the gas: and its first result was to make peal through me with unutterable power the conviction that Hegelism was true after all, and that the deepest convictions of my intellect hitherto were wrong. Whatever idea of representation occurred to the mind was seized by the same logical forceps, and served to illustrate the same truth; and that truth was that every opposition, among whatsoever things, vanished in a higher unity in which it is based; that all contraditions, so-called, are of a common kind; that unbroken continuity is of the essence of being; and that we are literally in the midst of an infinite , to perceive the existence of which is the utmost we can attain. Without the same as a basis, how could strife occur? Strife presupposes something to be striven about; and in this common topic, the same of both parties, the differences merge. From the hardest contradition to the tenderest diversity of verbiage deffierences evaporate; yes and no agree at least in being assertions; a denial of a statement is but another mode of stating the same, contradiction can only occur of the same thing --- all opinions are thus synonyms, and synonymous, are the same. But the same phrase by difference of emphasis is two; and here again difference and no-difference merge in one.
If you want to know how it works, it's a disassociative anesthetic like PCP or Ketamine. It works by kind of disconnecting your consciousness from the body, which allows your conscious mind to kind of free associate sensations and thoughts in a dreamlike state.
posted by empath at 2:06 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Btw, f you're going to further experiment with it outside of a medical setting, be careful that you don't injure yourself. It's really easy to knock yourself unconscious and get hurt, so make sure you're sitting down and you have some sober people around you.
posted by empath at 2:49 PM on May 17, 2011

Erowid is great for the kind of information you seek.
posted by Diag at 3:40 PM on May 17, 2011

They don't call it Hippie Crack for nothing. Before the Dead stopped touring, the sound of nitrous tanks filling balloons was everywhere. You can go way out there on Nitrous.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:48 PM on May 17, 2011

Here's an article from the blog MindHacks, about research showing that nitrous oxide increases imagination and suggestibillty. So, maybe the gas increased your ability to think creatively about issues on your mind, and your state of increased suggestibility made you even more blown away by the extraordinary clarity of your insights.

The one time I had nitrous, I was overcome by paranoia, convinced that these people in white masks were trying to kill me. I started thrashing around, fighting for my life. As soon as they stopped the gas, everything was fine. Nothing else has ever had a similar effect on me, except a nightmare or two.
posted by Corvid at 5:55 PM on May 17, 2011

My dentist used it on me once for a filling. I had no insights at all, let alone euphoria -- just no pain from the drilling. And I had one of the worst hangovers of my life afterward.

Your Mileage May [and almost undoubtedly will] Vary.
posted by KRS at 7:12 PM on May 17, 2011

NMDA antagonists like nitrous are known for silencing "brain static", including negative internal monologues/dialogues. Magnesium and zinc are the natural NMDA antagonists, so up these in your diet. Also, theanine as found in tea works on these receptors. A good cup of green tea can really put me into a clear-headed state of awareness and positivity.
posted by blargerz at 7:43 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

These things are very interesting, everyone is making great posts, much appreciated!

It seems like this gas is worth researching more, as the effects it has had on me have been very positive and have directly improved my quality of life.
posted by Patrick Leo at 8:51 PM on May 17, 2011

Generally these things hit diminishing returns pretty quickly, in terms of 'valuable insights', though. After the first 2-3 times, it's gonna be just for fun.
posted by empath at 8:53 PM on May 17, 2011

The discoverer of nitrous oxide's anaesthetic & euphoric effects, Sir Humphry Davy, published his Researches, Chemical and Philosophical; Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide... in 1800. It includes several interesting accounts of Davy's own experience of the gas, and those of others in his circle (see pp. 453-530).
posted by misteraitch at 10:00 PM on May 17, 2011

If you're looking, it's fairly close to the end of the book, and it's kind of amusing how fast he goes from "Oh, this is fascinating" to trying it morning noon and night and getting all of this friends to try it. Must have been a non stop party at his place.

For science, of course.
posted by empath at 10:57 PM on May 17, 2011

"I existed in a world of newly connected and newly modified ideas. I theorized; I imagined that I made discoveries. When I was awakened from this semi-delirious trance by Dr. Kinglake, who took the bag from my mouth, indignation and pride were the first feelings produced by the sight of persons about me. My emotions were enthusiastic and sublime; and for a minute I walked about the room perfectly regardless of what was said to me. As I recovered my former state of mind, I felt an inclination to communicate the discoveries I had made during the experiment. I endeavored to recall the ideas--they were feeble and indistinct; one collection of terms, however, presented itself, and, with most intense belief and prophetic manner, I exclaimed to Dr. Kinglake, 'Nothing exists but thoughts! The universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures, and pains.' "
posted by empath at 11:03 PM on May 17, 2011

It's very common. It's happened to me. And it's usually an illusion.
William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was "A smell of petroleum prevails throughout."

Please exercise caution with nitrous. It can suffocate and kill but you are more likely to suffer cold burns from expanding gas if not administered correctly. You may also pass out or fall over so please lay down when using.
posted by chairface at 5:40 PM on May 18, 2011

Oh one more thing. Nitrous is not renowned for spiritual insight. Better materials for that would be LSD, mescaline (peyote), mushrooms (Psilocybin), MDMA, and ayahuasca (DMT+MAOI). There are others but those would be the ones to investigate if you want to incorporate medicine work in your spiritual practice.

Try to find a guide if you can. At minimum, find a trusted friend who can sit with you.
posted by chairface at 5:45 PM on May 18, 2011

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