A study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggested laughing gas (Nitrous oxide) as a potential treatment for severe depression in patients whose symptoms don’t respond to standard therapies.
The research was first carried out on 20 patients with treatment-resistant clinical depression, of which two-thirds experienced an improvement in symptoms after receiving nitrous oxide.
“Our findings need to be replicated, but we think this is a good starting point, and we believe therapy with nitrous oxide eventually could help many people with depression,” said principal investigator Peter Nagele, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the School of Medicine.
That’s why the researchers believe the improvement in symptoms a day later is real and not a side effect of the nitrous oxide. Further, they cite an anecdotal finding from the study that the improvements lasted for at least one week in some patients.
In a second session, the patients received a placebo mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, the two main gases in the air we breathe – As earlier reported by ScienceDaily.
Two hours after each treatment, and again the next day, the study subjects were surveyed about the severity of their symptoms, such as sadness, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and insomnia. One day after nitrous oxide treatment, seven patients reported mild improvement in their symptoms, while another seven reported significant improvement. Three patients reported that their symptoms had disappeared almost completely. No patients said their symptoms worsened after treatment with nitrous oxide.
Meanwhile, after receiving the placebo, one patient reported worse symptoms the next day, five reported mild improvements, and two reported that they felt significantly better. But, “When they received nitrous oxide, many of the patients reported a rapid and significant improvement,” said co-investigator Charles R. Conway, MD, associate professor of psychiatry.
According to Charles F. Zorumski,
“If our findings can be replicated, a fast-acting drug like this might be particularly useful in patients with severe depression who may be at risk for suicide and who need help right away,” said co-investigator “Or perhaps the drug could be used to relieve symptoms temporarily until more conventional treatments begin to work.”