These steel gas bulbs are abundant on the streets of East London. Each mysterious little vial is evidence of 60 seconds of consciousness alteration, a reminder of how we deal with the intensity of life in the city – our need to laugh.
They contain Nitrous Oxide: Laughing Gas, a ‘dissociative anaesthetic,’ which, when inhaled, causes a brief dream-state, a hit of instant well-being, hallucinations, relief from pain or depression, hysterical laughter, or total confusion – depending on the makeup of the user.
Laughter is a universal human ability, ‘the best medicine’. Maybe it’s so good because laughing itself is funny and contagious, a whole-body reaction which makes us feel pleasure, bonding us together and forgetting our troubles for an instant. Laughter itself releases endorphins that fight pain and give a warm happy feeling, adding to the anaesthetic effect of the Nitrous Oxide. This drug is not news, it’s been used in medicine and for fun since before the 1800s but is now common to the party scene. The bulbs are in fact cream whipper gas bulbs for siphons, a piece of professional kitchen tech. The gas is quickly effective on the body – dissolving as readily in fatty cell membranes as it does in fatty cream. I see the discharged bulbs and imagine chefs on the run.
Finding these bulbs on the Phytology site in the context of its medicinal garden is an apt reminder of the self-medication we engage in to disassociate from our reality, raise a laugh when there’s not much to laugh about, or add a bit of risky thrill to our everyday lives.