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Poster from 1845 advertising a demonstration of the effects of laughing gas (nitrous oxide). (From Clinical Anesthesia, Nitrous Oxide, edited by D. W. Eastwood, M.D. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Co., 1964)

* An 1874 book by the American physician Benjamin Paul Blood was titled The

Anesthetic Revelation and the Cist of Philosophy.

From Chocolate to Morphine 80


Nitrous Oxide. N2O. lor your Whip Cream Machine

BOIES OF 10 CAPSULES S3.«5 PER SOX. ADO 75« P A N PER BOX Order of S boxes or more at S3 .SO Add 75* P A M per box.

Infletor Deluxe, el» available @ $7.00 Add $.75 PAN.

Orders to be shipped promptly from CREATIVE ITEMS

COMPANY P.O. Box 34 Craryvtlle. New Tort 12521 (N T. Res. add I* sales tax)

Wholesale inquiries invited.

Drug Subculture

It is unlikely that people responding to this ad were interested in whipped cream; it ran in High Times, a magazine of the drug subculture.

merited afterward that the atmosphere of the highest of all possible heavens was no doubt composed of nitrous oxide.

On the other hand, many others have used nitrous oxide for less spiritual ends, especially to get hilariously intoxicated. The name "laughing gas" comes from a time when traveling medicine shows and carnivals would invite the public to pay a small price for a minute's worth of nitrous oxide. In these rowdy settings, the gas commonly produced silliness and uncontrollable laughter. Often, the laughers would stop in sudden confusion when the effect of the drug came to its abrupt end.

Today, nitrous oxide is available 111 many dentists' offices. Realizing that people like to get high on it, some dentists give nitrous oxide even for routine procedures such as cleaning teeth. A fair number of tanks of the gas regularly disappear from hospitals and medical supply houses to find their way into the homes of recreational users. Many more people obtain smaller cylinders of the gas from restaurant suppliers, who use it to pressurize instant whipped cream cans. Some people even buy cans of instant whipped cream and attempt to get the gas out of the cans without the cream. Balloons of nitrous oxide have been offered for sale at some rock concerts.

Physicians and dentists have long considered nitrous oxide to be a safe pharmacological agent. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that excessive or prolonged use of it can damage the bone marrow and nervous system by interfering with the action of vitamin B-12. Moreover its use in nonmedical settings presents several hazards that users should keep in mind. Breathing it directly from pressurized tanks is dangerous for two reasons. First, gas flowing from such tanks is very cold — cold enough to cause frostbite of noses, lips, and (most serious) vocal cords. Being anesthetized, a user may be unaware of such injuries until too late. Second, because nitrous oxide does not support life, it should be mixed with oxygen if it is to be breathed for more than a few minutes. At private parties, oxygen tanks are rarely supplied, and people have died of asphyxiation by breathing straight nitrous oxide through face masks. One way to avoid these dangers is to fill balloons from tanks and breathe from the balloons.

Further, nitrous oxide rapidly leads to complete loss of motor control, and anyone who breathes it while standing will soon reel about and fall down. Therefore, it is unwise to try the gas unless one is in a comfortable sitting or lying position. Serious injuries have resulted from people inhaling laughing gas while standing in front of open windows, when driving cars, or when operating machinery. Others have been badly hurt by accidentally pulling

81 Depressants heavy tanks of nitrous oxide over onto themselves while intoxicated.

People who breathe nitrous oxide for more than a few minutes at a time may experience nausea, especially if they have just eaten. They may also feel hung over for some time after. Addiction to nitrous oxide is a real possibility. Addicts may suffer serious mood and personality changes in addition to the bone marrow and nervous system damage already mentioned.

Warnings About Nitrous Oxide

1. Never breathe nitrous oxide directly from a pressurized tank.

2. Never breathe nitrous oxide for more than a few minutes at a time.

3. Do not use nitrous oxide regularly over long periods of time.

4. Never breathe nitrous oxide standing up or while doing anything requiring normal motor coordination.

Ripening opium pods (Jeremy Bigwood)


The word narcotic comes from a Greek word meaning "stupor." Stupor is a state of reduced sensibility that has given rise to our familiar adjective stupid. Narcotics are drugs that can produce stupors by depressing brain function, but their depressant action is different from that of sedative-hypnotics or general anesthetics. The parent of all narcotic drugs is opium, a dark, gummy solid

An elegant opium den in Hankou, China, about 1900. (Courtesy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

China And Europe Drug Was 1900s

From Chocolate to Morphine 82

Morphine was the first active principle ever extracted from a drug plant. Its isolation from opium in 1803 marked the beginning of the modern era of drug treatment. (Jeremy Bigwood)

Right: Injectable codeine. (Jeremy Bigwood)

made from the opium poppy. Opium poppies are lovely flowers, probably native to southern Europe and western Asia but now cultivated all over the world. As the flowers wither, the green pods, containing many tiny seeds, begin to ripen and swell. If the pods are allowed to ripen fully, they turn brown and dry, whereupon the edible seeds can be gathered for use in cooking. While still unripe, the pods contain a milky juice that can be collected by letting it ooze from knife cuts. When dried, this juice is crude opium.

One of the oldest of all drugs, opium was used in prehistoric times; the ancient Greeks recognized its pain-relieving properties. Throughout history opium has been an important item of commerce, and in some periods it was the most widely used medical drug.

Opium can be taken by mouth or it can be smoked, but since smoking was unknown in Europe and Asia until Columbus brought news of it from the New World, opium smoking did not exist before 1492. Many oral preparations of opium were made in the past. Two that survive into our own times are paregoric, a dilute tincture of opium combined with camphor, and deodorized tincture of opium, formerly known as laudanum, which is more concentrated.

Crude opium tastes very bitter and contains more than twenty different drugs, of which the most important is morphine. Named for Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, morphine was isolated



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