Bipolar disorder Brain Sunnybrook Magazine Sunnybrook Magazine – Fall 2017

Could laughing gas provide relief for bipolar depression?

Laughing gas mask

Nitrous oxide – an inhaled anesthetic known as laughing gas or N2O, and most commonly associated with a visit to the dentist – may potentially provide relief for bipolar depression.

A clinical trial is underway to compare the immediate effects of laughing gas with those of another anesthetic medication, midazolam, on depression symptoms and on the blood flow in the brain of individuals with treatment-resistant bipolar depression. Researchers hope it will not only ease the depressive symptoms but also offer clues to the role of blood-flow problems in bipolar depression.

Participants 20 to 60 years old with treatment-resistant bipolar depression are randomized to undergo a neuroimaging session that includes either 20 minutes of inhaled N2O plus an intravenous saline solution or 20 minutes of inhaled room air plus an intravenous of midazolam.

MRI scans will capture the blood-flow changes and brain activity prior to, during and after the administration of the two treatments.

“We predict that N2O will improve blood flow in the brain, and that this improvement will be associated with temporary improvement of their depressive symptoms,” says Dr. Benjamin Goldstein, principal investigator of the trial and director of the Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder at Sunnybrook.

“If proven effective, N2O has the potential to become a game-changing treatment for bipolar depression because it’s generally well tolerated, safe, low in cost, accessible and easy to administer.”

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Nadia Radovini

Nadia Norcia Radovini is a communications advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

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