Home StoriesPart of Inside Our Collections

Laughing gas and the scientific pursuit of the sublime

In September 2021, the UK Home Secretary ordered a review into possession of nitrous oxide gas, one of the most popular recreational substances among 16- to 24-year-olds. Inhaling the gas may be a rising trend, but as historian Sharon Ruston reveals, it’s by no means a new activity. Laughing gas, as it was commonly known, could be found in some of the most respectable and fashionable homes of 19th-century Britain.

Words by Professor Sharon Ruston

  • In pictures

About the author

A head and shoulders black and white photograph of Professor Sharon Ruston.

Professor Sharon Ruston


Professor Ruston is Chair in Romanticism at Lancaster University. She has written the following books: ‘The Science of Life and Death in Frankenstein (2021), ‘Creating Romanticism’ (2013), ‘Romanticism: An Introduction’ (2010), and ‘Shelley and Vitality’ (2005). She also co-edited the ‘Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy’ for Oxford University Press (2020). She currently leads an AHRC-funded project to transcribe all of the notebooks of Sir Humphry Davy