- It was discovered in the late 1770's by Joseph Priestly. In 1779 Sir Humphrey Davey was the first human to inhale it and described it as "very pleasurable" and "euphoric." He was the one who coined the term laughing gas.
It wasn't originally used in a medical setting. From 1800-1844 it was mainly used at social gatherings and sideshows for entertainment.
- In 1844 a dentist named Horace Wells was attending a demonstration. A peculiar incident happened involving a volunteer who inhaled the gas and began freaking out. (Not everybody reacts the same, and some people really don't like it.) Anyway, this guy started running around the room and gashed his leg open. Horace the dentist astutely observed that the man didn't even react to his wound - as though he didn't feel any pain. The next day Horace had his dentist buddy extracted his abscessed tooth using the gas. Horace felt no pain and proclaimed this to be "the greatest discovery ever made."
Originally the dentists had difficulty in delivering high concentrations of the gas due to the crude delivery systems available to them. What were these delivery systems? Ox bladders. (Don't click unless you really want to see an ox bladder.)
Wells, who is credited with the discovery of anesthesia, became addicted to the laughing gas and committed suicide at age 33.
- The exact mechanism of nitrous oxide is still unknown.
Let me know your thoughts or any funny stories involving laughing gas. Maybe next year I'll give away a free nitrous oxide treatment to the person with the best story. Maybe.