Volume 37, Issue 4 (July 1992)
Asphyxial Deaths from the Recreational Use of Nitrous Oxide
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.