Study: Laughing Gas Dangerous, No Joke

The safety of the common anesthetic known as laughing gas is under a cloud after a new study linked it to higher rates of pneumonia, wound infections and possibly even heart attacks.

The Australian-led research team found patients kept unconscious during surgery with anesthetics other than nitrous oxide suffered fewer life-threatening complications.

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Nitrous oxide is typically used in the U.S. during dental surgeries. It is also the gas used in whip cream canisters and sometimes "huffed" or inhaled by U.S. teens to obtain a high or euphoric feeling.

Nitrous oxide remains "near routine" in surgeries, despite accumulating evidence of its dangerous side-effects, the researchers said.

The trial, one of the world's largest anesthesiology studies ever conducted, involved 2,000 patients undergoing major surgery in 13 hospitals in Australia along with six others in the UK, Asia and the Middle East.

Patients who received nitrous oxide as part of their anesthetic were about one third more likely to suffer a wound infection than patients who did not receive the gas, the researchers found.