In a new study from the University of Chicago, researchers found that a single inhalation session with 25% nitrous oxide gas was nearly as effective as 50% nitrous oxide at rapidly relieving symptoms of treatment-resistant depression, with fewer adverse side effects.
They also found that the effects lasted much longer than previously suspected, with some participants experiencing improvements for upwards of two weeks.
These results suggest that non-traditional treatments may be a viable option for patients whose depression is not responsive to typical antidepressant medications. It may also provide a rapidly effective treatment option for patients in crisis.
Often called “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide is frequently used as an anesthetic that provides short-term pain relief in dentistry and surgery.
In a prior study, the team tested the effects of a one-hour inhalation session with 50% nitrous oxide gas in 20 patients.
They found that it led to rapid improvements in patient’s depressive symptoms that lasted for at least 24 hours when compared to placebo. However, several patients experienced negative side effects, including nausea, vomiting and headaches.
In the current study, they repeated a similar protocol with 20 patients, this time adding an additional inhalation session with 25% nitrous oxide.
They found that even with only half the concentration of nitrous oxide, the treatment was nearly as effective as 50% nitrous oxide, but this time with just one quarter of the negative side effects.
Furthermore, the team found after just a single administration, some patients’ improvements in their depression symptoms lasted for 2 weeks.
These results indicate promise for nitrous oxide as a rapid and effective treatment for those suffering from severe depression that fails to respond to other treatments, such as SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant medication.
The team says around 15% of people who suffer from depression don’t respond to standard antidepressant treatment.
These ‘treatment-resistant depression’ patients often suffer for years, even decades, with life-debilitating depression.
Identifying novel treatments, such as nitrous oxide, that target alternative pathways is critical to treating these individuals.
Despite its “laughing gas” reputation, patients who receive such a low dosage actually fall asleep.
While it remains challenging to get non-traditional treatments for depression accepted in the mainstream, researchers hope that these results, and other similar studies, will open the minds of reluctant physicians toward the unique properties of these drugs.
For more information about depression treatment and prevention, please see recent studies about people with depression can sometimes experience memory problems – here’s why and results showing that some depression drugs may increase death risk.
The study is published in Science Translational Medicine. One author of the study is Peter Nagele, MD.
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