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Does Nitrous Oxide Kill Brain Cells?

If you’ve been using nitrous oxide or hippy crack to get high, you might have heard that it kills brain cells and wondered if this is true. The short answer to the question is yes; using N2O regularly does kill brain cells, and it also has many other negative effects on the body.

How N2O Affects the Brain

When you inhale N2O to get high, it’s important to know what you are inhaling. It’s very different from the laughing gas you might inhale at a doctor’s or dentist’s office. The gas used in medical procedures is diluted with oxygen before it’s given to you to inhale, but the gas that comes from whipped cream containers or other sources is not diluted; it’s concentrated.

While this might provide a satisfying high, it also delivers a lot of full-strength nitrous oxide to your brain. Concentrated N20 robs your brain and other cells of the oxygen they need to function normally. If you are using N2O on a regular basis, you are robbing your brain cells of oxygen on a regular basis too. Brain cells that don’t receive the oxygen they need will die.1

When brain cells die, you may lose your ability to think clearly or remember things. You can also develop anxiety, depression, and other mental issues. In addition, N2O causes your blood pressure to drop, which can cause you to pass out.

The inhalation of nitrous oxide can seem like a safe way to get high because you can get canisters and balloons legally, but it is not safe to inhale in these full concentrations; even one time can cause damage.

Can Nitrous Oxide Cause Permanent Brain Damage?

Nitrous Oxide Metal Bulb Canisters Recreational Drugs

Yes. Inhaling N2O in full concentrations on a regular basis can cause permanent brain damage. This is because every time you inhale N2O, you are robbing the brain cells of oxygen, which causes them to die. Over time, the death of brain cells will eventually result in impaired brain function and damage to the brain that can become permanent if N2O misuse continues.

Is Nitrous Oxide Safe for Long-Term Use?

No. Nitrous oxide is not safe to use over the long term, especially if being inhaled in full concentrations. Along with the other kinds of damage this gas can cause to the brain, if a person already has a mental health condition before using N2O, long-term exposure to it can make these conditions a lot worse.2

In addition to its many potentially harmful long-term effects on the brain, too much nitrous oxide in the body will kill red blood cells and cause anemia. It will also cause nervous system problems and a deficiency in vitamin b12. Over time, this deficiency can lead to nerve damage and potentially permanent numbness in the fingers, toes, feet, and arms.3

The long-term inhalation of N2O can also destroy the air sacs in the lungs, leading to the development of respiratory problems and diseases.4

Nitrous oxide is an addictive substance. So, this means you might inhale a lot of it to make your high last longer, or might begin using it on a regular basis. You may also want a stronger high as time goes on, and so might inhale more N2O than you should at one time. Doing any or all of these things can make using nitrous oxide for a long time even more dangerous.

Do Brain Cells Regenerate?

Yes. Adult brain cells that become injured can be regenerated.5 However, nitrous oxide is misused mostly by young adults between the ages of 16-24. During this time, the brain is still developing, which leaves it particularly vulnerable to damage from substances like nitrous oxide.

If younger brains are more vulnerable to damage, then it stands to reason that brain cells in younger people would have a much harder time to regenerate.

Is There Help for Nitrous Oxide Addiction?

Male therapist leading group therapy session

Yes. You can get treatment for N2O addiction, as well as the many side effects that can occur when you inhale it. Adelante Recovery Centers offers professional treatment for all kinds of substance abuse, including N2O.

Nitrous oxide misuse can cause a wide range of problems in the brain and elsewhere in the body. If you have been experiencing the signs of addiction to N2O or the symptoms associated with its misuse, learn how treatment can help you get sober.


  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/inhalants/what-are-other-medical-consequences-inhalant-abuse
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325910#long-term
  3. https://www.acep.org/toxicology/newsroom/jun2021/nitrous-oxide-misuse-and-abuse/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10442242/
  5. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/press-releases/2020-04-15-when-damaged-adult-brain-repairs-itself-going-back-to-beginning/

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