European Society of Anaesthesiology Task Force on Nitrous Oxide: a narrative review of its role in clinical practice

Br J Anaesth. 2019 May;122(5):587-604. doi: 10.1016/j.bja.2019.01.023. Epub 2019 Feb 22.


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is one of the oldest drugs still in use in medicine. Despite its superior pharmacokinetic properties, controversy remains over its continued use in clinical practice, reflecting in part significant improvements in the pharmacology of other anaesthetic agents and developing awareness of its shortcomings. This narrative review describes current knowledge regarding the clinical use of N2O based on a systematic and critical analysis of the available scientific literature. The pharmacological properties of N2O are reviewed in detail along with current evidence for the indications and contraindications of this drug in specific settings, both in perioperative care and in procedural sedation. Novel potential applications for N2O for the prevention or treatment of chronic pain and depression are also discussed. In view of the available evidence, we recommend that the supply of N2O in hospitals be maintained while encouraging its economic delivery using modern low flow delivery systems. Future research into its potential novel applications in prevention or treatment of chronic conditions should be pursued to better identify its role place in the developing era of precision medicine.

Keywords: anaesthesia; analgesia; dental pain; labour analgesia; major depression; nitrous oxide; pain; pharmaco-economics.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / methods
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / pharmacology
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Anesthesia, Dental / methods
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / adverse effects
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / pharmacology*
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Pain / prevention & control
  • Conscious Sedation / methods
  • Contraindications, Drug
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Humans
  • Nitrous Oxide / adverse effects
  • Nitrous Oxide / pharmacology*
  • Nitrous Oxide / therapeutic use


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Nitrous Oxide