Laughing gas banishes traumatic memories, apparently

Pass us the cracker

One of the key parts of the balloon experience is the bit when somebody does a double and you watch them go blue and you think: they’re probably going to die, and this can’t be good for us can it? 

But perhaps your fears are unfounded. Scientists at UCL have conducted a study into whether nitrous oxide, or “hippy crack” as your Grandad calls it, could preclude post-traumatic stress disorder.

Academic journal Psychological Medicine asked 50 people to watch clips from French film, Irreversible. It’s not exactly François Truffaut, either. In fact, it’s horribly grim: there is a brutal extended rape scene. Many viewers report feeling traumatised after watching it, and the researchers chose it as it has been shown specifically to induce flashbacks.

One of the researchers, UCL academic Ravi Das, wanted to know whether the pattern of flashbacks would be different for those who had taken laughing gas.

The gas works by blocking the receptors that convert short-term memory into long-term memory. The scientists hoped that delivering gas after a traumatic experience could would prevent stressful memories from being hardwired into the brain.

Research indicates this is indeed true. The team monitored the participants for a week following the screening and those who had taken laughing gas reported a swifter drop-off in memory “intrusions” from watching Irreversible.

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