December 11, 2007 - 6:08 am - Posted by iDunzo
December 11, 1844: Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is used as a dental anesthetic for the first time.
English chemist Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, first synthesized nitrous oxide in 1775. Priestley, however, was content with having “discovered an air five or six times as good as common air.”
He did not experiment with inhalation, however, so did nothing toward developing its practical and recreational uses.
Nitrous oxide, along with chloroform and ether, became popular anesthetics. While not sufficiently effective as general anesthetics for the modern operating theater, all were effective enough to become popular in dentistry. Of the three, nitrous oxide is still widely used.
Nitrous oxide is also used as an aerosol-spray propellant, especially in whipped-cream canisters and cooking sprays. Its solubility in fatty compounds allows for up to four times as much whipped cream to be produced as the liquid contained in the can.
Owing to its nontoxicity and relatively easy storage, nitrous oxide is also a popular oxidizer for rocket motors and is used in car racing to boost power.
Outside the commercial world, nitrous oxide is best known for its recreational use as an inhalant for getting high. The resulting euphoria is often accompanied by some pretty loopy behavior, which is where the “laughing gas” moniker comes from.
For every upside there’s a downside, though, and nitrous oxide’s is considerable. It’s a major greenhouse gas and therefore a major contributor to global warming.