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In 1798, Humphry Davy, a young poet and aspiring physician, became the supervisor of the newly-established Bristol Pneumatic Medical Institute, a center for medical treatment and research. Davy quickly realized that the Institute’s regimens were not based on actual trials or experiments, so he embarked on a course of research into various inhalable gases. His first subject: himself.
After undergoing fainting fits, nausea, and a near-death experience with carbon monoxide, Davy eventually decided nitrous oxide, N2O, would be the safest substance to test on himself and others. It was also the most fun. “This gas raised my pulse, made me dance about the laboratory as a madman, and has kept my spirits in a glow ever since,” Davy wrote. Thanks to reactions like this, people would eventually dub the substance laughing gas.
Davy - Oxide - Period - Times - Day
Davy loved inhaling nitrous oxide; during one period he breathed it up to three or four times a day. He wrote poetry under the influence (“On Breathing Nitrous Oxide”), experimented with combining alcohol and N2O (apparently it reduced his hangover), and spent some time saturating his lungs in a portable gas chamber.
In addition to self-experimentation, Davy tested other subjects, pioneering a blind experimental method. Without telling volunteers whether they were...
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