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NOS (Nitrous Oxide): What is It?

Written by Joseph Mcqueen

I’m sure by now, whilst walking home on any street in any city, the festive clink of canister’s has been heard and felt under your feet. Like leaves in autumn they litter the sidewalks to be trampled under foot. But what’s the story behind these strange metal pellets?

Nitrous Oxide (NOS) has fast become the drug of choice of many young partiers, a gas with anesthetic and dissociative effects, with nicknames like laughing gas and hippy crack, it’s hard not to have heard of it before. But what is Nitrous oxide and what are the positives and negatives of this party drug. In this article we’ll look at the history of NOS, what it’s psychoactive effects are and whether there are any lasting after effects of the drug on a users’ brain.

NOS is a drug with a very interesting history and reputation, but, like many other mind-altering compounds, it does have a place in both the worlds of the therapeutics and recreation. To learn more about cannabis and psychedelics, make sure to subscribe to The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one, as well as exclusive deals Delta 8Delta 10 THCTHCVTHC-OTHCPHHC and even on legal Delta-9 THC!

What is NOS?

So what actually is NOS? according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation  we can define NOS as “a colourless gas commonly used for sedation and pain relief, but also used by people to feel intoxicated or high” Nitrous Oxide is produced for Dentists and surgeons as an anaesthetic for patients having minor surgeries, and the gas is also used as an additive to make whipped cream used to top fairy cakes. It has fast become one of the world’s favourite drugs because of its affordability and availability as the gas itself when not being taken recreationally is legal to purchase from many food and catering websites.

What does it look like & How is it taken

NOS is always inhaled, but the method of inhaling and the dispensers the gas comes stored in can sometimes vary. The most common form to buy and take NOS is through a small canister, or charger, and a cream dispenser used to fill a balloon. The canister is enough for one small balloon and often two canisters are used for a better trip. The method can be quite time consuming as the canister has to be put into the dispenser, screwed on until the gas is released and then pumped into a balloon. Now for one person this is ok, but when there is a group of 10 eager partygoers, it can take a bit of time.

Smaller ‘crackers’ can be used instead of a full cream dispenser, but these can become incredibly cold to touch due to the temperature the gas comes out at. A less common way of storing NOS is in a large cylinder: Much more expensive and harder to find as they’re often medical supplies, storing NOS this way makes it easier to dispense, but harder to hide. The final and arguably most absurd way to take NOS is in the form of a whippet. A whippet is where someone directly inhales  the gas from a whipped cream can, whilst also consuming the cream. It takes a fair bit of squirting, but eventually it can work. 

The History of NOS 

Nitrous Oxide was discovered by Joseph Priestly  and later investigated by Sir Humphry Davey who gave it its name and also noted its psychoactive effects. Humphrey Davey was given free reign to experiment with what was later called laughing gas and he found that administering the gas to patients created an analgesic or pain killing effect. Laughing gas parties were commonplace within the upper classes at the beginning of the 19th century, where people would sit around inhaling the gas and going into fits of giggles. The gas then became a very important anaesthetic in the 19th century and was used by dentists and surgeons alike for most surgeries until ether gas, a stronger anaesthetic came along. 

How Does it Feel?

NOS trips can vary from person to person and depending on how much of the gas is inhaled. The most common effects of the drug are a feeling of time slowing down and repeating itself as well as a feeling of euphoria sometimes associated with eponymous laughter. The gas can also make you feel very dizzy and can cause one to  lose their sense of reality in a dissociative way. People can hallucinate on the drug and for a brief amount of time (often less than a minute) can completely dissociate and see things that aren’t there. The drug very rapidly wears off after use and often has no come down or side-effects other than a weak headache. If a lot of the drug is taken it can lead to quite an extended hallucination, an experience talked about in a very enlightening video made by Steve-O. On one of his biggest NOS binges he saw an entire intervention that didn’t even exist, not ideal.

What are the Psychoactive Effects?

Whilst the exact psychopharmacology of NOS isn’t completely known, some of the pathways linked to euphoria and analgesia have been studied in their relationship with the gas. In rats, Nitrous Oxide has been shown to activate certain dopamine pathways, linked to reward and also linked to pain control. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to feelings of euphoria in humans and it is expected that it is involved in NOS’ effect on humans as well as rats. 


NOS  is a super cheap, fun and easy to use drug, with very few side effects and often little to no come down afterwards. It can lead to quite intense highs, but only for a very short time and the feeling of euphoria one gains from it can be very fun when in a social setting. It leads to laughter and giggles when taken responsibly and if taken with a group of people can feel quite ritualistic, with one person supplying the balloons and everyone else waiting expectantly to take them. NOS is also fast acting and fast to wear off which again means that it won’t absolutely dominate a night, but can simply supplement it.


Other than the fact it takes a long time to get everyone’s balloons ready (although this kind of becomes part of the ‘ritual’) NOS has been recently investigated by psychologists to see if it has any long term effects from overuse. In a recent medical review, misuse of the drug reportedly led to some forms of neurological damage due to Vitamin B-12 inactivation from the gas. Of course, these cases were in extremes and it’s very unlikely these effects would happen to many people, but we must be aware of the dangers of misusing the gas. Another downside of NOS is the sheer quantity of waste it produces. As mentioned in the introduction, it has now almost become part of city life, wading through a sea of chargers, but this has a huge environmental issue. These canisters disrupt the eco-systems around them, they don’t biodegrade and they take a huge amount of time and effort to clean up, not to mention the plastic waste from the balloons. A better way to take NOS has to be thought of before the craze can develop any more.

Is it Legal?

This is where it gets a little tricky. The use of NOS as a recreational drug, being inhaled, and the selling of the gas for this purpose is illegal based on the psychoactive substances act of 2016. However, the gas can be sold and bought if the buyer  says that they are going to use the chargers for cooking. Of course, the honesty of all customers can’t always be trusted and some sellers also don’t seem to be too fussed whether you’re using the gas to make fairy cakes for a family birthday or if you’re using them to go out. If one is buying a large amount of NOS and they don’t run a cake shop, people may become suspicious. 

My Own Experiences 

NOS was, for a while, one of my favourite drugs due to the intensity, but brevity of the highs it can induce. I’ve had some great times on the drug and it has been central to some social experiences. The only issue I have with it is that due to the amount of time it takes to make the balloons, it can sometimes feel a tad underwhelming. However, in some countries I’ve visited the gas is legal for consumption, including Russia surprisingly, and NOS can really add to a night out when properly supplied from someone behind the bar. I’ve had some quite intense trips on it that have often involved the other times I’ve been high, including one trip where I saw myself at every single moment I’ve been high since I was 17 which was, to say the least, intense. 


NOS  is an interesting and enjoyable drug that has personally given me joy as well as supplying generations of people with a good time and a relief from dental pain, but it’s not without its risks. As discussed, the drug can lead to some forms of neurological damage if misused and not taken responsibly. I think it’s important to note that the drug can be very fun, but one has to be very careful with it as it’s also quite moorish: when someone with the drug credentials of Steve-O says that it’s the drug that messed him up the most, you know it’s not something to be taken lightly.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.