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Inhaling a single, low dose of nitrous oxide, better known as “laughing gas,” has helped “quickly relieve” symptoms of severe depression in people with unresponsive condition. drugs, according to a new study.
And to the researchers’ surprise, the effects lasted for more than two weeks; the experimental treatment was to last about 24 hours.
Although laughter is supposed to be the best medicine, participants in the University of Chicago and University of Washington medical study didn’t laugh for the sake of getting better. The dose was so low that they actually fell asleep, Dr. Peter Nagele, study co-author and director of anesthesia and intensive care at UChicago Medicine, said in a statement.
“They don’t get stoned or euphoric; they are sedated, ”Nagele added. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The researchers said it was difficult to get the scientific community to accept “non-traditional” treatments for depression like laughing gas, but the option might be ideal for people with mental health crises whose depression does not. not respond to medication.
“There is a huge unmet need. There are millions of depressed patients who don’t have good treatment options, ”especially those with thoughts of suicide, Nagele said. “If we develop effective and rapid treatments that can really help someone navigate their suicidal thoughts and come out on the other side, this is a very rewarding line of research.”
The team built their new study on a previous one that found that a one-hour inhalation session with 50% nitrous oxide gas in 20 people resulted in rapid improvement in symptoms of depression that lasted for up to less than 24 hours. The downside: Several people have experienced negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
The researchers wondered if the high dose of laughing gas caused the side effects. In a follow-up experiment, they therefore tested a one-hour inhalation session with 25% of the gas.
“Maybe by lowering the dose we could find the ‘Goldilocks point’ that would maximize clinical benefits and minimize negative side effects,” Nagele said.
The lower dose turned out to be almost as effective as the higher dose, causing only a quarter of the negative side effects. And while the first study only assessed the evolution of depressive symptoms over 24 hours, the news continued for two weeks.
“The reduction in side effects was unexpected and quite drastic, but even more exciting, the effects after a single administration lasted for two full weeks,” Nagele said. “It has never been shown before. It’s a very cool find.
Study co-author Dr Charles Conway, professor of psychiatry and director of the Treatment Resistant Depression and Neurostimulation Clinic at the Washington University School of Medicine, said about 15% of people with depression do not respond to “standard antidepressant therapy”.
“We don’t really know why standard treatments don’t work for them, although we suspect they may have different brain network disturbances than nonresistant depressed patients,” Conway said in the release. “Identifying new treatments, such as nitrous oxide, that target alternative pathways is essential to treat these people.”