Nitrous oxide drug test: is nitrous oxide detectable? - Discussion on psychology (2023)

Laughing gas is known for its recreational use, inducing feelings of euphoria, calm and relaxation in those who inhale it.

If you're worried about nitrous oxide showing up on drug tests, you're probably not the only one. Recreational use of nitrous oxide is increasing, putting many people in a similar position.

So, do standard drug tests pick up nitrous oxide? And is there a special test to detect nitrous oxide?

The short answer here is that there are no current drug testing screens for nitrous oxide, and blood and urine samples only detect nitrous oxide under certain scientific conditions.

While it is virtually impossible to determine how long nitrous oxide remains in the body, evidence shows that the substance is metabolized more rapidly in the elderly, physically active people and those with a high nitrous oxide tolerance.

Is there a drug test for laughing gas?

There is currently no specific drug test for nitrous oxide. And it seems that some users are taking advantage of this – a2018 Metro News reportdescribes a case in which a person inhaled nitrous oxide from a balloon while driving.

According to their findings, this is not the only case; Officers in London, UK have received numerous reports ofnitrous oxide abuseand inhalation while driving.

However, would nitrous oxide show up if the police stopped and tested these people for drugs?

Do drug tests usually screen for nitrous oxide?

Research shows that nitrous oxide does notshow up on routine drug testing. It appears in urine and blood samples only shortly after exposure.

However, this is only the case if the researchers conduct the tests in a specific way with special techniques and precautions.

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If you didn't know, you're not the only one! according to aStudy 2006only 10% of doctors knew that nitrous oxide, ecstasy and oxycodone are undetectable on a standard urine test.

For example, specially conducted drug tests can pick up nitrous oxide shortly after exposure.

Drug Testing for Nitrous Oxide: Frequently Asked Questions

Can laughing gas be detected in a hair test?

Nitrous oxide is not usually shown in hair tests because hair tests focus primarily on detecting substances that have been ingested.

Hair tests do not currently look for solvents or nitrous oxide. However, that doesn't mean hair tests won't show nitrous oxide in the future.

Do urine tests detect nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide can show up in urine tests. However, not in the standard urine tests you may be familiar with.

In fact, most of the evidence suggests that nitrous oxide isdetectable only shortly after exposureand under special conditions not included in routine tests.

Does nitrous oxide show up in a blood test?

Research has similar results for nitrous oxide in blood tests; While it does come up when labs use special techniques and precautions, it's not the norm for typical blood tests done at doctor's or hospital appointments.

Again, the available evidence focuses mostly on testing shortly after exposure.

How long does it take for nitrous oxide to work?

Nitrous oxide produces a reliable "high" in just a few seconds. The substance has avariety of effects:

  • giggles
  • loss of balance
  • dizziness
  • euphoria
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Breathing pure nitrous oxide directly from the tank can lead to more intense sensations such as tingling in the limbs and faster heartbeat.

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This method is considered highly dangerous because nitrous oxide is present in this concentrationdisplaces the air in the lungs, leading to a temporary lack of oxygen – which can happen in extreme casescause brain damage.

How long after consuming NO2 can drug tests detect it?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to establish a precise timetable for how long nitrous oxide will remain in urine and blood.

Nevertheless, evidence shows that nitrous oxide has a half-life ofabout 5 minutes, suggesting that it doesn't stay in your system for long.

In addition, the laughing gas absorbed is not completely metabolized. Studies have shown that the human body metabolizes less than 0.004% of the nitrous oxide consumed.

This is because we excrete most of it unchanged (unmetabolized), but also primarily through the lungsthrough the skin.

On the downside…

Some evidence suggests that nitrous oxide lingers in your system for up to 18 hours after consumption.

Ato learnA study of the exposure of hospital staff to nitrous oxide revealed concentrations of up to 120 µg/L (micrograms per liter) in blood and urine samples immediately after exposure. When blood and urine samples were taken 18 hours after exposure, this concentration dropped to 1.5 to 4.9 µg/L. However, this was still significantly higher than the control group. This study also showed that participants who already had nitrous oxide in their system at the time of exposure (about 1.5 µg/L) had a higher concentration of nitrous oxide on a second exposure.

This shows that previous application can affect the metabolism of nitrous oxide in the body.

What other factors may play a role?

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Which factors influence the nitrous oxide metabolism in the body?

Research shows that various physiological factors affect the way our bodies metabolize drugs.

These factors include:

  • Age
  • physical activity
  • Frequency and intensity of use

First, let's look at the effect of age.


There is evidence that there is a likely association between age and drug metabolism in general.

In particular, people who are older showhigher blood concentrations of drugsandaltered metabolism.

Someresearchers suspectthat this metabolic change is due to changes in body composition and plasma protein binding. Higher doses of water-soluble drugs are required for children because a higher proportion of their body mass is water.

It is therefore possible that age influences the nitrous oxide metabolism and thus the duration of detection in specially conducted drug tests.

Nitrous oxide drug test: is nitrous oxide detectable? - Discussion on psychology (1)

physical activity

Physical activity affects theAbsorption, metabolism, excretion and distributionfrom certain medications.

For example, frequency and concentration of terbulatine, an inhalant used to prevent shortness of breath and wheezing, were higher after cycling.researcherbelieve this was due to the increase in pulmonary blood flow and the increased movement of the drug across the alveolar membranes.

Exercise may similarly affect the metabolism of nitrous oxide, another inhalant. Further research in this area is needed to confirm this association.

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Frequency and intensity of nitrous oxide consumption

Another factor influencing the length of time that nitrous oxide can be detected is the frequency and intensity of use.

As noted in the previously mentioned study by Brugnone and colleagues on hospital workers, previous exposure to nitrous oxide can increase the concentration of the substance on the second exposure.

However,Tolerance can mediate this: In general, if a person has a high tolerance to drugs, the substance appears to metabolize more rapidly, reducing the detection time.

How long does it take for nitrous oxide to wear off?

The effects of nitrous oxide last between 1-5 minutes, depending on the person and the dosage. Once the effects wear off, the person returns to a normal state.


Nitrous oxide use does not show up in standard drug tests; Still, under certain conditions, it can show up in blood and urine tests soon after using nitrous oxide.

It is difficult to know how long nitrous oxide stays in the body, but if you are older, are physically active, or have not had a recent exposure, the levels of nitrous oxide in your body are likely to be lower.


  • Tamplin, H. (2018, September 6). It's a really bad idea to take nitrous oxide while driving. Metro.
  • Levy, S., Harris, S.K., Sherritt, L., Angulo, M., & Knight, J.R. (2006). Drug testing in adolescents in outpatient medicine. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160(2), 146.
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  • le Couteur, D. G., McLachlan, A. J., & de Cabo, R. (2011). Aging, drugs and drug metabolism. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 67A(2), 137–139.
  • Drenth‐van Maanen, A.C., Wilting, I., & Jansen, P.A.F. (2019). Prescribing medication for the elderly - How to consider the effects of aging on human organ and body function. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 86(10), 1921-1930.
  • Jones, B.L. (2020, October). Pharmacokinetics in children. MSD Manual: Professional version.
  • Lenz, TL (2011). The effects of high physical activity on pharmacokinetic drug-drug interactions. Opinion on Drug Metabolism and Toxicology, 7(3), 257-266.
  • Khazaeinia, T. & Ramsey, A.A. (2000). The effects of exercise on drug pharmacokinetics. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 3(3), 292-302.
  • Susa, S.T., & Preuss, C.V. (2022, March 13). drug metabolism. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Information on Biotechnology.
  • Sonander, H., Stenqvist, O., & Nilsson, K. (1983). Exposure to traces of nitrous oxide. British Journal of Anesthesia, 55 (12), 1225-1229.
  • Bristol Drugs Project. (2021, April 19). laughing gas.
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