Health experts have been using laughing gas in dentistry for so many years. However, recently scientists have been trying to use this chemical for other purposes as well. A small study has shown that laughing gas might be helpful for patients with depression who do not respond to treatment. The authors of the study have said that a low dose of laughing gas is quite effective in improving symptoms of depression in patients who are dealing with a severe form of this mental disorder and who do not respond to antidepressant drugs. The findings of the study have been released in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The study has been done by experts from the University of Washington. They have said that a small amount of nitrous oxide, widely known as laughing gas is as effective in improving symptoms of depression after two weeks of treatment as a higher dose in patients who are dealing with treatment-resistant depression.
A low dose of nitrous oxide does not cause any adverse side effects in patients with depression, said the experts. As per the study, either dose of nitrous oxide has been able to reduce symptoms of the disease more than a placebo. Scientists are now planning to confirm these findings in a large-scale trial. Experts have said that treatment-resistant major depression (TRMD) is typically detected after two antidepressants are not able to improve the condition of the patients. They have claimed that TRMD takes place in around one-third of patients who are dealing with severe depression. As per the data, around 17 million people are dealing with depression in the US. Many failures have derailed scientists’ effort to find a suitable treatment for a severe form of depression that has led them to find some other alternate solutions.
Dr. Kara Zivin, who is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, has said that there has been major forward growth in this field. Health experts have informed that apart from antidepressants and therapy, electroconvulsive therapy and anesthetics are part of current strategies to treat TRMD. Ketamine has been one milestone of progress that has been able to reduce symptoms of depression in just a few hours. However, experts have been trying to find more affordable ways to treat TRMD. Dr. Cristina Cusin, who is the director of Ketamine Clinic for treatment-resistant major depression at Massachusetts General Hospital, has said that experts need to have a wide range of alternatives to treat this condition as every brain works differently. In the quest for other alternatives, experts have been testing other anesthetics such as nitrous oxide that is used to sedate patients during dental and medical procedures.
A past study as well has shown that laughing gas can reduce signs of depression one day after the treatment. In the new study, the authors have tried to see whether a low dose of nitrous oxide is able to help patients who are dealing with major depression and how long the beneficial effects of this anesthetic last. They have enrolled around 24 patients who have been suffering from TRMD. The participants have been randomized to be given a low dose of nitrous oxide, a placebo, or a high dose of laughing gas for one hour in a crossover study. In the subsequent sessions, they have been again randomized to a different therapy group. Later, experts have looked at the symptoms of depression of 20 participants who have completed all three treatments and a variety of questionnaires up to two weeks after each therapy.
The authors of the study have said that patients who have been given either dose of laughing gas therapy have shown fewer symptoms of depression as compared to those who have received a placebo. As per one particular questionnaire, the symptoms of the condition have reduced by 5 to 7 points on a 65-point scale two weeks after laughing gas therapy as compared to the placebo group. On the other hand, 50 percent nitrous oxide or a higher dose of laughing gas has resulted in side effects such as nausea and vomiting. At the end of the study, the symptoms of depression have reduced by 11 points from their baseline levels. Dr. Cusin has said that laughing gas might be a good alternative to treat TRMD, as it is widely available in every hospital and laboratory. Laughing gas therapy leads to fewer side effects as compared to Ketamine treatment, said the experts. The lead author of the study, Peter Negele has said that nitrous oxide cannot be metabolized in the body. Peter Negele is an anesthesiologist at the University of Chicago. He has already filed for a patent for the usage of nitrous oxide in the treatment of depression.
Nevertheless, the study authors have warned there is a dearth of safety data on extended use of nitrous oxide due to the way it is typically used. Cristina Cusin has said that it is uncertain how it will affect the brain when it is used over an extended period. Other experts as well have said that there is a risk of potential abuse of this anesthetic same as other medicines that impact the brain. A psychiatrist at Yale University, Lisa Harding has said that the study has enrolled around 96 percent of white people so it is uncertain how the anesthetic will affect other populations. She has said that more people from different communities should be included in the large-scale trials to verify the beneficial effects of laughing gas on depression in the real world. The authors of the study have said that though the findings are limited, nitrous oxide might become a potential tool to treat TRMD.