Asphyxial deaths from the recreational
use of nitrous oxide

Wagner SA, Clark MA, Wesche DL,
Doedens DJ, Lloyd AW.
Department of Pathology,
Indiana University School of Medicine.
J Forensic Sci. 1992 Jul;37(4):1008-15.


The recreational use of nitrous oxide is widespread. Nitrous oxide for recreational use is usually obtained from anesthesia tanks or whipped-cream machine chargers or cans. Twenty previously described deaths associated with recreational nitrous-oxide use describe anesthesia tanks and whipped-cream machine dispensors as a source. Five deaths associated with nitrous oxide use are presented; two involving whipped-cream cannisters as the source, two involving anesthesia tanks, and one involving a racing fuel tank as a source of nitrous oxide. Autopsy findings in our cases were subtle or negative, but usually suggestive of asphyxia. Through a laboratory simulation, we have confirmed that nitrous oxide displaces oxygen in a closed space, which probably leads to asphyxia. A review of the literature, neuropharmacology, and pathophysiology of nitrous oxide use is also presented.
Nitrous oxide
Obstetric anesthesia
Inhaled anaesthetics
Nitrous oxide inhalation
Motrous oxide anaesthesia
Nitrous oxide: adverse effects

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