Have you ever taken laughing gas while at the dentist? Well, imagine being under the same influence while diving deep in the ocean. It's probably not the best situation. Nitrogen Narcosis puts your mind under an impaired state due to excessive inhalation of compressed nitrogen.
As we explained in our article about pressure and the air we breathe, nitrogen is the majority of what we breathe, but it can create some difficulties under a lot of pressure. As like most of the gases we can breathe, nitrogen becomes narcotic under pressure, which means it will dull or numb nerves causing bodily functions to become impaired.
To prevent Nitrogen Narcosis, helium is sometimes substituted for much of the nitrogen in an air tank. Helium, unlike other breathable gases, doesn't become narcotic under pressure.
Nitrogen narcosis is similar to getting laughing gas when you go to the dentist. It causes you to lose judgement and task memory which is very important while scuba diving. Scuba diving requires constant awareness of surroundings, conditions of gear, air supply, etc. Being under heavy narcotic influence can be very dangerous.
Most divers will experience at least a small degree of nitrogen narcosis. The effects of nitrogen narcosis can be measured with the "martini law" which says that every 50 feet of depth you travel under water is similar to drinking one martini on an empty stomach. So, if you dive down to 150 feet, it would be like drinking three martinis. Obviously the effects of narcosis will vary just as a martini affects people differently.
If you or someone you are diving with is experiencing nitrogen narcosis, the best thing to do is slowly bring them up to shallower depths and the narcosis will wear off quickly. If needed, return to the surface and rest on the shore or the boat. If nausea persists, breathing from an oxygen tank can help.
In all, nitrogen narcosis is a constant issue to deal with while diving, but can be handled. Be aware of it, and how to deal with it, but don't let it scare you from getting out there and exploring the underwater world!
Also, be sure to check out our snorkeling gear. A new Kapitol Reef snorkel can provide a great holiday gift!