Skip to main content

Laughing Gas Name: The History

Have you ever wondered where the laughing gas name came from? The official name of laughing gas is nitrous oxide.

It is a colorless, odorless chemical compound that is often used for sedation in surgery and dentistry. 

So how did a chemical compound earn a name like laughing gas? Here’s an in-depth look at the history of nitrous oxide: the discovery, the name, and its medical uses today.


The first known discovery of nitrous oxide was in 1772 by an English natural philosopher named Joseph Priestly. He named it “phlogisticated nitrous air”. It is easy to see why that name didn’t stick around. 

Years later, in 1794, Scottish chemist and inventor James Watt redubbed Priestly’s phlogisticated nitrous air “factitious air”. He invented a machine that produced the gas and a breathing apparatus that allowed the inhalation of his factitious air (ie. nitrous oxide). Watt’s partner, Thomas Beddoes, presented new medical theories stating that the inhalation of factitious air could cure tuberculosis and other lung diseases.

The Laughing Gas Name is Born

Clinical trials soon began, and by 1798 more chemists and inventors were joining the research into this promising gas. Humphry Davy spent several years examining and working with nitrous oxide. He became fascinated by the propensity of the gas to make him laugh, and thus he coined the laughing gas name. 

Davy wrote his findings in a book in 1800 titled “Researches, Chemical and Philosophical”. In the book he also noted the ability of laughing gas to relieve a conscious person from pain, and wrote about its potential for use in medical procedures.

Laughing Gas Today

From its first use in a dental extraction in 1844, laughing gas has continued to rise in popularity in the medical community. Today, laughing gas is administered daily to millions of patients across the world.

James Watt’s old breathing apparatus has been reshaped and redeveloped countless times and now is a small rubber mask that fits lightly over the patient’s nose. The nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and when inhaled, patients are able to relax in the dentist’s chair pain-free.

The rise in popularity of laughing gas is due to its level of safety and effectiveness. Laughing gas has been found to have very few negative side effects. It is generally considered the safest form of sedation, and for minor procedures it is highly effective and relieving pain. 

Oral & Facial Surgery of Utah is Here

The history of the laughing gas name is fascinating, and so is the gas itself. Whether you’re concerned about using nitrous oxide for an upcoming procedure or you’re already an experienced pro, Oral & Facial Surgery of Utah is here to answer any questions you might have. Our highly trained staff and board-certified oral surgeons are committed to providing the highest level of care to each of our patients. We’d love to discuss your oral health and any concerns you might have. We have offices in Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan, and Tooele in Utah. Schedule your free consultation today!

Comments are closed.

Click to open and close visual accessibility options. The options include increasing font-size and color contrast.