Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or nitrous, is a chemical compound, an oxide of nitrogen with the formula N2O. At room temperature, it is a colourless non-flammable gas, with a slight metallic scent and taste. At elevated temperatures, nitrous oxide is a powerful oxidizer similar to molecular oxygen. It is soluble in water.
Nitrous oxide has significant medical uses, especially in surgery and dentistry, for its anaesthetic and pain reducing effects. Its colloquial name "laughing gas", coined by Humphry Davy, is due to the euphoric effects upon inhaling it, a property that has led to its recreational use as a dissociative anaesthetic. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the safest and most effective medicines needed in a health system.
Nitrous oxide has been used in dentistry and surgery, as an anaesthetic and analgesic, since 1844.
Nitrous oxide is a weak general anaesthetic, and so is generally not used alone in general anaesthesia, but used as a carrier gas (mixed with oxygen) for more powerful general anaesthetic drugs such as sevoflurane or desflurane. It has a minimum alveolar concentration of 105% and a blood/gas partition coefficient of 0.46. Dentists use a simpler machine which only delivers an N2 mixture for the patient to inhale while conscious. The patient is kept conscious throughout the procedure, and retains adequate mental faculties to respond to questions and instructions from the dentist.
Inhalation of nitrous oxide is used frequently to relieve pain associated with childbirth, trauma, oral surgery and acute coronary syndrome (includes heart attacks). Its use during labour has been shown to be a safe and effective aid for birthing women.