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mental health mondays :: laugh it off

so not depressed
in the history of mental health mondays, we've covered some pretty novel and controversial treatments for various disorders: crystal meth for adhd, lsd for addiction, ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. but this latest one really takes the crazy cake for me, because it turns out that those sanctimonious assholes who tell people to just laugh off their depression may not have been so very wrong after all: there is an increasing body of science that indicates nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, may offer at least short-term relief from the notorious treatment-resistant depression.

this is still very much something that's "under exploration". a preliminary study that looked at a number of methods of treating resilient depression showed very promising results, in that those who took nitrous oxide felt happier both two and twenty-four hours later- indicating that the effect lasted much longer than the immediate high. some patients continued to show an improved mood even a week after treatment, which is pretty amazing when you consider that the other methods tested had basically accomplished nothing. also, unlike ketamine, a controlled amount of nitrous oxide does not have the side effect of making you trip balls, which makes it a more appropriate medication for people with mental disorders. that study was promising enough that washington university is now recruiting for a much bigger study, which will look at its efficacy over the long term and at possible side effects like bursting out laughing at your father's funeral or something.

the thing is, people take nitrous oxide for fun. they inhale it out of bags or balloons [just to give that extra bit of hilarity]. it's known as "hippy crack" in some quarters. and since people are using it to get happy, the scientific establishment has dedicated itself to convincing us all that it's incredibly bad for us, potentially making us all bald, blind and depressed. huh? yes, that's right: doctors have been telling curious teens that nitrous oxide will make them feel a lot worse afterwards, while at the same time other doctors have been testing out the theory that it might make you feel happier than you have in years.

surely, you'd think those doctors would want to talk to each other, since their findings seem on the one hand contradictory [it can't make you both happy and sad in the medium term] and on the other hand complementary. [why do we have to wait for new research when it seems the information is already out there?] but before you start to weigh the relative advantages of happiness and sight, i should probably clarify that they aren't using each other's data to come up with those results. as is usually the case when investigating the medicinal possibilities of recreational drugs, the purity and quality of what's being used is not the same. for the most part, the amounts used for treatment are much lower than those used for fun, and the supply is much more closely monitored. it is very possible that the mixture used to treat depression is not nearly intense enough to cause such a great drop in your b12 levels that it leaves you bald and blind. that's just something we'll have to wait a little longer to find out.

nonetheless, it's another intriguing area in the struggle to treat mental illness, and another indication that our ideas about recreational drugs, and about the possibility that some solutions may already be under or up our own noses. i'll be following developments and, in the meantime, when people tell me they're particularly depressed, i'm going to tell them to go sniff gas. 

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