Laughing Gas
By BU '09


If you've ever had oral surgery you know how painful it can be. But those days of pain are over now that oral surgeons have laughing gas. This form of nitrous oxide will make you completely forget about the pain while putting you into a relaxed state of bliss. It feels like you haven't got a care in the world. It doesn't matter that your teeth are being yanked right out of your mouth. This great gas has been scientifically proven to relieve most anxiety felt before surgery, especially in young children. The gas was originally discovered by Joseph Priestly (he also created carbonated drinks) in 1772. Nitrous oxide was first used for human use by a young English man named Humphrey Davy in 1799 in his home in England. Before he found that it could be used for surgical use he used it to get things going at his parties. > (Bridgman, Roger. 1000 Inventions & Discoveries. 1st ed. New York: DK Publishing, 2002.)

In 1799, on Boxing Day, Humphrey Davy put his head in a box full of nitrous oxide to see what effects it would have on him. The box was full of 57 liters of laughing gas and he stayed in there for exactly1 hour and 15 minutes. As time passed his pulse slowed and the animal heat gradually increased. After 45 minutes he wanted to laugh out loud and felt giddy. His hearing ability increased and he became hyper and couldn't sit still. It began to get harder to breath and his attention to detail actually increased. When he came out he felt as if he had no worries and he couldn't recall much of what he had done or thought while in the box. His conclusion was, "Nothing exists but thoughts! The universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures and pains." (Williams, Henry Smith. Boxing Day 1799. Humphrey Davy Encloses his head in a box full of Nitrous Oxide Gas. 11 May 2004. http://lateralscience.co.uk/nitrous/)

Humphrey Davy was the first to consider laughing gas for surgical procedures. Sadly he was the only one who thought that and nobody else would try the gas. But after his time laughing gas is now regularly used in surgery to "destroy physical pain" and relax the patient. It's a shame Humphrey never got to see his idea being put to use but laughing gas helps patients all over the world every day.


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