Nitrous oxide - N20, the subject of the misnamed Phish song NO2 - is "the oldest and only inorganic anesthetic agent still in clinical use today. It has provided years of reliable relief from pain. When administered appropriately, nitrous oxide is a very safe and valuable asset in decreasing the pain and anxiety experienced by dental patients". (Dental Digest)
However, various forms of the gas are sold in parking lots at shows for recreational use, which involves oxygen deprivation and thus entails a risk of hypoxia (brain damage) and, in extreme cases, death. (Common injuries also include concussions from passing out and falling. Additional risks may include frostbite, paralysis, and dementia.) Some sources may have the pharmaceutical grade used by dentists, but most are alternative nitrous compounds intended for automotive or maritime use; some confiscated tanks have actually contained other gases, including argon! Flyers distributed with ticket orders (beginning summber 1996) have thus warned against both sale and use.
Fans refer to N20 as "hippie crack" because it is illegal to distribute, unhealthy to consume, highly addictive, expensive to buy, provides short-term numbness, and is often distributed by groups characterized, and characterizable, as "the nitrous maffia": Relatively organized sales cohorts often have lookouts, common or intermingled treasury, and cooperative (and aggressive, even violent) security in their efforts to prey on an otherwise largely wonderful scene, with little or no interest in the music or anything else besides making a buck, of which they make greedily plenty (tens of thousands of dollars per night!) As an official flyer read, "Remember, if you purchase nitrous oxide, you are likely to be supporting people who care nothing about, and contribute nothing to the Phish community."
"There's always something new for me to learn that I can't automatically deal with.""
-- Jon Fishman, 4/22/92 interview with Shelly Culbertson"
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