Why I love nitrous, and why you should too

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(Them as find this funny might care to visit some of my goofier pages at Dan's Data, like for instance How To Destroy Your Computer and How To Spot A Psychopath.)

Most people don't seem to know about nitrous oxide. It's one of those drugs that people try in high school, and remember only that they froze something to their tongue. A lot of other people have had nitrous administered at the dentist (it's laughing gas, folks); I don't care how cool a drug is, it's hard to have a good trip when some bastard's about to shove a tiny air-powered diamond drill into your dentine.

Nitrous has a good list of things going for it. It's legal, for starters; while you can't buy the full dental happy-gas rig without appropriate letters after your name in excessively civilised countries like mine, there's nothing stopping you venturing forth to the local supermarket and picking up some whipped cream maker bulbs, each of which contains approximately one lungful of instant happiness.

Nitrous is also, so far as I can tell, completely harmless. You can kill yourself with nitrous, if you do some boneheaded thing like tying a mask to your face, rubber-banding a garbage bag of the stuff to your head, doing nitrous while standing in front of an open 20th floor window, or doing it while driving. But, in the thick end of two hundred years of research, nobody's been able to identify any obvious short or long term side-effects. Lots of dentists use nitrous recreationally (amazing, I know), and as a group they do not suffer from any odd ailments that might indicate undesirable effects.

If you have too much nitrous, you can get nauseous. This is, to my mind, the only undesirable short-term nitrous effect (the others, which can be broadly described as "being utterly baked", are the whole idea for recreational users). Since I've never got drunk enough to puke (weird, I know, but true) I can't compare nitrous-nausea with ethanol-nausea, but when it happens to me I get plenty of warning signs. Now and then I've ignored them, and paid the price. I paid it on the carpet right here <points> once, and I've paid it in someone's bathroom a couple of times. Don't worry your pretty heads about this, though, because you've got to plough through a goodly heap of bulbs before any gastric excitement starts to occur. And, as any pisspot'll tell you, having a good old chunder simply indicates that you are Partying Hearty.

Prolonged nitrous use can cause vitamin B12 deficiency - the gas inhibits uptake. I've not noticed this effect, and it's remediable with supplements. Apparently, nitrous can also induce perspiration. This hasn't happened to me or any of my friends, to my knowledge. If nitrous makes you sweat like a pig, tough.

Don't take my word for it on any of this, though. I could be an evil nefarious nitrous oxide pusher. Look it up for yourself.

Nitrous has one big point against it - it's crappy value for money. A single bulb is good for maybe 30 seconds to a minute (depending on how well you hyperventilate) of serious off-the-planet stonedness. Then you have to do another one. And another. And another. There are ten bulbs to a box, and boxes cost $AUS4.20 or so. There is a reason why nitrous is sometimes referred to as "hippie crack".

Apparently, partaking of marijuana before inhaling nitrous gives a notably better effect. I wouldn't know, of course, because marijuana is illegal and I do not do illegal things. At all. Honest.


Details, details, details

I have no idea how many people actually buy whipped cream maker bulbs (variously referred to as "whippy bulbs", "whippets", or just "bulbs", in my circle of friends) with the intention of putting them in a whipped cream maker and actually making whipped cream. I've certainly never done it. Nitrous is used for aerating cream because it's soluble in fat and doesn't tingle on the tongue like carbon dioxide. Fizzy whipped cream would be weird.

Nitrous bulbs are very similar to carbon dioxide bulbs - a little broader in the beam, and usually grey and made by one and only one company in Hungary, whose bankruptcy would cause long-haired louts the world over to wear black armbands for a year. I've also purchased Austrian bulbs which are the same size as carbon dioxide bulbs, and so tended to jam in my bulbulator (see below), until I wound the three centering screws in a bit.

Just as with carbon dioxide bulbs, you liberate the gas by puncturing the thin metal seal at the pointy end of the bulb. And, just as with carbon dioxide bulbs, the escaping gas is bloody cold and not suitable for direct inhalation. Carbon dioxide is not suitable for direct inhalation even if you warm it, humidify it and scent it with rosewater, but nitrous is.

In order to avoid those high school injuries (frozen tongues, inflated heads), your nitrous has to pass through some sort of intermediate storage vessel. If you have a regular soda siphon (you know, the things clowns squirt each other with), you can charge it with a bulb, without putting any water in it first, then blow up a balloon from the siphon and inhale from that. You shouldn't inhale straight from a soda siphon unless your workwear involves a cape and a copyrighted logo on your chest.

If you actually have a whipped cream siphon, you probably already know exactly how to inhale nitrous from it. Since proper whipped cream siphons restrict the flow rate, you can inhale straight from the output nozzle.

I do not use either of these methods, because I have my own device for rapidly and simply inflating balloons from bulbs. These devices are frequently referred to as "crackers", but mine is not. Mine is called the bulbulator.

As far as I'm concerned, nitrous use is quite like being a Jedi knight. You're not doing it properly until you've made your own bulbulator.

Whatever means of inhalation you choose, the strategy is simple - though different enough from inhaling smoke that most people get it wrong the first couple of times. Breathe deeply a few times - or hyperventilate for five minutes, for a really cheap high. Exhale completely, pushing out as much air from your lungs as you can. Put your balloon or siphon to your lips, and inhale nothing but nitrous; one bulb comes close to completely filling my average lungs. Do not "carb" the nitrous with air. Now simply hold the nitrous down as long as is comfortable. Do not worry about the gas irritating your throat or lungs, like smoke; it is cold and dry, but otherwise inert.

Clean nitrous has a slightly sweet taste to it; a cracker or (more commonly) siphon caked with the oily black crap that slowly accumulates from the seals in the bulbs will impart its own distinct flavour, best described as "ooky". I am happy to say that a lengthy blast in an ultrasonic cleaner filled with water and dishwashing detergent is a damn good way to make your bulbulator approximately nine times cleaner than it was when you made it. I was originally under the impression that water wouldn't cut it for getting the crap off, but 40 watts of 40kHz does the trick.

If you don't have an ultrasonic cleaner, you'll save time if you clean your cracker/siphon/bulbulator with 'orrible nasty solvents like turpentine (with just a dash of acetone). If you do, don't put your hands in the cleaning mixture, don't do it in a badly ventilated place and remember to THOROUGHLY FLUSH OUT the device before you blow up any more balloons with it. Nitrous is harmless. Turps is nasty. Acetone is very nasty. Got that?

I'll be really pissed off if somebody washes their siphon in petrol, flushes it inadequately and drops dead because they inhaled .03 cents worth of premium unleaded. Politicians will use the event as an excuse to make the stuff illegal, then all of the dentists will become alcoholics and develop shaky hands. You mark my words.


Wossit like, then?

The first time I did nitrous, I had a pretty much textbook response. Strong audio hallucinations - variously described as "echoes" and "helicopters", considerable befuddlement, a general feeling of boneheaded cheerfulness and slowed coordination. As I kept using the stuff, I experienced the much-vaunted "reverse tolerance" effect, in which the more you use nitrous, the better it works. Value!

For me, the good thing came to an end and I developed tolerance, and now get practically no audio hallucinations. It's still a fun experience, and friends who've developed tolerance also keep doing nitrous for the pleasant buzz and the way it lets you drop into dream-state for 60 seconds, then come back amused by the deuced peculiar things your brain came up with. Everything also seems to taste better on nitrous. Sucking down a bulb and then munching a chocolate-coated coffee bean is a toe-curlingly intense experience.

I, however, alone among my friends, appear to be a lucky duck. I get really good Grade A photorealistic video hallucinations, unfortunately with no sound. The hallucinations come best when I'm relaxed (the more relaxed the better, nudge nudge) and undistracted. This is apparently a somewhat rare, but far from unknown, response to the drug.

I have H. R. Giger pictures on my bedroom wall. "Li" likes to turn into various gods and demons; unfortunately they always seem to be pissed off with me, but us atheists have to put up with that. I have been buzzed by cloaked UFOs on the beach in the middle of the night (they tried to beam me up, or scan me, or something, as well). I have seen the gates of Hell inlaid into the ground in a suburban backyard, where a bush assembled itself into some kind of plant-spirit thingy and all my friends turned into Satanic stormtroopers in cool grey suede pants and shiny boots ("I swear I only joined for the uniform!"). My bedroom has been filled with big rubber protective bumper things. Unseen entities have written things in lawns for me. My plasma ball has tried to conquer the world. I have been cursed by an Evil Power, but I appear to be resistant.

I'm not guaranteeing anything, but if your brain turns out to be wired like mine and you get these effects, you will find them really cool.

I've introduced a handful of people to nitrous. There's nothing like the FFFT! of a balloon being inflated in 0.2 seconds to break the ice and get people interested. I have developed a remarkable facility for explaining the basic theory and practice of what I'm doing while my brain is still 80% dormant.

Nobody I've handed a balloon to has ever disliked the drug. Some people (you know who you are) have liked it so much that I'd rather give them bulbs than consume them myself, because it's so much fun to watch them. Nobody has hurt themselves, though a couple have, against my strong advice, done things like striding around the house and experimenting with autostrangulation. I hope I never have to drive some dimwit friend with a cracked skull to the emergency room because he thought it'd be cool to suck a bulb and ride a skateboard. I think I'd call him a cab.

So that's my drug. It's almost the only one I do. I don't drink, I don't smoke; I take a No-Doz Plus in the morning to assist me in waking up (just like a cup of coffee, but you don't have to get up to make it). That's about it.

Well, don't just sit there. You've got to go to the supermarket and the hardware store.


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Got something to say about nitrous? Got something to say about electroencephalography? I can't stop you from emailing me, no matter how irrelevant your message is!


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Copyright Daniel Rutter 1997. Last modified 15/05/02.