An emergency room physician in Richmond has issued a warning of risks linked to inhaling nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas.
Nitrous oxide is used in medical and dental settings for sedation and pain, but some teens and young adults inhale it from small canisters known as “whippits” to get high.
A statement from Vancouver Coastal Health says Dr. Matthew Kwok has seen patients at Richmond Hospital who have inhaled the gas and suffered drug-induced psychosis and neurological effects.
“People become addicted to this drug, and its non-medical use can be extremely dangerous,” Kwok said.
In the latest publication for BC Medical Journal, Kwow outlined the case of a 20-year-old woman with no history of psychiatric or medical illness before suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations. She admitted to using nitrous oxide daily, Kwok said, and had recently increased her dosage.
But when Kwok and his medical team went to report the case to a federal agency, they discovered there is not tracking of such overdoses in the country.
“This is a commercially available product that can cause serious adverse health effects, yet there isn’t a proper reporting mechanism that adequately reflects the magnitude of the potential toxicity,” Kwok said.
“Our research shows very few reported cases, in part because the nitrous oxide comes from a product marketed for whipping cream and an adverse report would only be accepted if the canister itself was faulty.”
Kwok is calling for the government to create restrictions on accessing nitrous oxide canisters. He also wants to see more awareness among the public and within the medical industry of the outcomes from inhaling non-medical laughing gas.
“When people present at the emergency department with unexplained neurological symptoms it’s important for clinicians to consider nitrous oxide as a possible cause,” Kwok added.
”It’s also important for users to know that using this product outside a supervised medical setting can cause serious health effects.”