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Case report
Metabolic encephalopathy caused by nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’) induced hyperammonaemia


A 26-year-old man presented at the emergency department with confusion and decreased consciousness after several days of vomiting. In the preceding 6 months, he had used a 2-litre tank of nitrous oxide (N2O) weekly. His metabolic encephalopathy was caused by hyperammonaemia which probably resulted from interference of N2O-induced vitamin B12 deficiency with ammonia degradation. A catabolic state might have contributed to the hyperammonaemia in this case. After treatment with vitamin B12 and lactulose, both his consciousness and hyperammonaemia improved. He reported no residual complaints after 3 months of follow-up. Since N2O is increasingly used as a recreational drug, we recommend considering hyperammonaemia as a cause of metabolic encephalopathy in cases of N2O use and altered mental status.

  • sedation
  • drugs misuse (including addiction)
  • vitamins and supplements
  • peripheral nerve disease
  • emergency medicine

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