Subanesthetic concentration of nitrous oxide and human memory

Mohamed M. Ghoneim, Steven P. Mewaldt, Ronald C. Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


1. 1. Subanesthetic concentrations of nitrous oxide are used for analgesia and are occasionally abused. The effects of 30% nitrous oxide on human learning and memory, facility for solving mathematical problems and subjective feelings were investigated. 2. 2. There were 40 normal volunteers; two drugs; 30% nitrous oxide in oxygen (N) and 100% oxygen (P, placebo); and two experimental sessions. Subjects were divided into four groups according to the drug which they inhaled in the two sessions: PP, PN, NP and NN. 3. 3. "N" produced a marked decrease in learning; mean number of words recalled was 22.9 vs. 50.2 for "P" (P < .001). 4. 4. On the digit span test, the percent correct under "N" was 63.0 vs. 76.8 under "P" (p< .01), indicating an impairment of short-term memory. "N" also reduced the number of mathematical problems attempted; mean number was 39.0 vs. 52.8 for "P" (p < .002) and reduced the accuracy: 75.5% for "N" vs. 94.8% for "P" (p < .001). 5. 5. Computation of the difference scores between the number of words learned in Session I and the number recalled in Session II indicated impairment of retrieval under "N". There was no evidence of state-dependent learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1981


  • learning
  • memory
  • nitrous oxide
  • state-dependent learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • General Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • General Neuroscience


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