Vito Oliveri felt instant euphoria when he used nitrous oxide aka “laughing gas” for the first time. However, he never guessed at the time that it would leave him and his fiancee paralyzed years later.
Oliveri, 34, lives with his fiancee, Emily Shuford, in Portland, Oregon, and the two often took trips to the lake or mountains as they lived near some of the best ski resorts in the country.
When Oliveri first took nitrous oxide, he attached a silver capsule containing the gas to whipped cream dispensers and filled a small balloon, from which he inhaled the gas. He experienced a high right away and liked it. While the “little crackers” have a bad taste, Oliveri says that the bigger cylinders are tasteless and more convenient; they also provide greater euphoria.
Eight years after using the gas, however, he began to experience pins and needle sensations in his leg; he was eventually unable to walk. According to Oliveri, both he and his fiancee have been limited to the house since last April, unable to walk even their dogs.
What Is Nitrous Oxide?
Nitrous oxide, also known as “hippie crack” or “laughing gas” is often used as a painkiller during labor and surgery. However, in recent years, it has grown in popularity as a recreational drug, especially in the United States, Europe, and Australia, as people who inhale the gas experience a relaxed euphoria that typically lasts between one to two minutes.
However, the gas comes with potential dangers. In Oliveri’s case, nitrous oxide destroyed the nerve cells within his spinal cord by inactivating vitamin B12, which is essential for proper nerve function, according to neurologist Alistair Noyce, who works at a London hospital.
The damage to the nerve cells can also cause numbness and tingling of the body part, with the severity depending on how extensive the damage is. Not only that but individuals can also lose their sense of balance as signals aren’t transmitted throughout the body properly.
Oliveri, who suffered nerve damage from the recreational drug, experiences trouble balancing and falls over when his dogs pull on their leash or jump on them. He now sends the pups to a doggy daycare once a week to ensure that they get enough exercise.
Oliveri has decided to share his experience and story to raise awareness of the potential dangers of “laughing gas.”
What’s worse, is that some may experience nerve damage after only one use. Doctors have also seen an incline of cases among those in their teens and twenties, with some needing to use a wheelchair or walking frame. Depending on the severity, they may also experience incontinence.
As for what’s regarded as “heavy use”, experts agree that using more than 10 to 15 canisters once a week can significantly increase the risk of nerve damage. Those who experience symptoms such as unexplained incontinence, tingling, or numbness, should stop taking nitrous oxide immediately and seek medical help. Doctors will be able to tree it with vitamin B12 injections, which may help some individuals recover.