Charles Bukowski wrote, “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” The link between laughter and a life lived heartily is all too obvious. An earlier study by Oxford University had found that pain thresholds become “significantly higher” after laughter, compared to the control condition, and saw this as being due to laughter itself and not one’s mood. It also found that laughter produced an “endorphin-mediated opiate effect” that could “play a crucial role in social bonding”. A proof-of-concept trial has now shown that nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, has great potential as an effective remedy for severe depression in patients who don’t respond to therapies.
The study, which was conducted at Washington University in St Louis, is the first to look at the effects of laughing gas on depressed patients, a surprising delay if we recall the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” However, it is most welcome, given that a third of all clinically depressed people suffer from treatment-resistant depression. It seems to be a quick-acting intervention, and with a few side-effects, the most common being nausea and vomiting. The researchers are planning to carry out more thorough investigations, along with tests of various concentrations of laughing gas to determine how each influences depression.
Among the proven health benefits of laughter are reductions in stress hormones and raising the number of antibody-producing cells leading to stronger immune system. Closer home, practitioners of hasyayoga (laughter yoga) have for long held laughter as supreme, practising voluntary laughter to provide the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. No wonder, thousands of laughter clubs have come up across India in recent years even as incidence of suicides, especially in the southern and eastern regions, has grown. If it takes laughing gas to shed all inhibitions and gloom, so be it.