Nitrous Oxide: 215 Years, From Humphry Davy To Hippie Crack.

largeNitrous oxide, also referred to as Laughing Gas has a particularly interesting history, being one of the only drugs beside cannabis & alcohol that people still use in similar forms/dosages to centuries ago. It’s on the WHO Model List of Essential medicines because of its use in surgery & dentistry, it’s what the NoS tanks in Fast & the Furious cars use for that video game style speed boosts & it’s been used recreationally by half a million people in the UK alone. Nitrous has been shown to be relatively harmless from a neurotoxicity perspective. The issue with most users developing hypoxia is related to their using “whippets” instead of medical grade Nitrous. While medical grade Nitrous has oxygen mixed into it, chargers do not. Hence the potential for harm if you’re getting the stuff you can get at Zabars instead of having it be administered by someone with medical or dental training. But here’s the crazy part, it started out just as a party drug for the British upper class & academia.
Nitrous 1830Yes, that picture actually says “Prescription for Scolding Wives.” It’s an ad for Nitrous being used as a…way to handle the ladies it seems. Doing drugs in a victorian gown looks difficult as hell, but this shows you how long ago people started doing this stuff.  In 1799, one of the first pioneers of the field of “inhaling gases that we just learned how to make,” had a special air-tight chamber constructed for the sole purpose of being shut into it so his assistant could pump twenty (yes 20) quarts of Nitrous Oxide into the chamber every five minutes. Until he lost consciousness, of course.  Mr. Davy threw nitrous “clinics” where doctors, chemists, playwrights, surgeons & poets consumed “the gas.” An example of how positively the experience was received by those in attendance:

Some subjects produced answers that were oblique but highly imaginative: one of the clinic patients answered ‘how do you feel?’ with ‘I feel like the sound of a harp’.

This was just one of the reports in a a book he wrote after a whole lot of excess, science & consumption so wild it could get documented by Hunter S. Thompson. Davy’s career of increasing nitrous consumption, experimentation (& subsequent rejection) of other gases such as hydrocarbonate and combination with other drugs resulted in a 320 page “Researches, Chemical & Philosophical Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide.” He recorded people’s experiences & required everyone to write a little bit about it. You can read 80 pages of those reports in all their intoxicated glory here. There’s lots more about the way it spent the next 200 years infiltrating the globe but you’ve already checked Facebook twice while reading this, so I’ll speed things up.Fast forward a couple of centuries,nitrous has filtered entirely into the underground & working classes. If you’ve ever been in the parking lot at a festival, you’ve heard the distinct hiss of a nitrous canister being surreptitiously discharged in exchange for cash. The Village Voice did a tremendous piece on this back in 2010 and this is where the term “hippie crack” came from. At more of these rock music festivals (waaaay before EDM younglings), you’d have these festivals with balloons strewn across festivals after people do it repeatedly. This stuff is cheap and euphoric, but only lasts 30 seconds to at most a couple of minutes depending on how big of a balloon the average festival goer is able to get. This stuff is still around the cracks in security at festivals all over the country every summer. When it comes to harm, you’re more likely to hurt yourself by doing something stupid while on the stuff than have it, or a habit from it kill you. But it definitely may not be legal in your state, so don’t get cocky kids. The people selling this stuff have been known to be violent and let’s not forget they’re actual drug dealers, not clowns selling balloon animals, as detailed in that Village Voice article. They have territory & profit to generate. Educate the mind. For more info, join ravelrie, NY DanceSafe, Stay Safe Seattle & I on Twitter using #nosFF at 4:30pm EST/1:30pm PST.

5 thoughts on “Nitrous Oxide: 215 Years, From Humphry Davy To Hippie Crack.

  1. the term hippie crack has been around since the late eighties. It was not coined by the Village Voice. Source: Grateful Dead shows back in the eighties and nineties

  2. I’ve been using the term “Hippy Crack” since the early ’90’s, so the Village Voice had nothing to do with the origins of the term.


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