Nitrogen narcosis, or the ‘Raptures of the Deep’, as Jacques-Yves Cousteau called it, is the disorientating effect and altered state of mind caused by breathing nitrogen at a high partial pressure.
The deeper a diver descends, the higher the partial pressure of nitrogen and other gases in his air will be. For this reason, nitrogen narcosis is usually thought of as a function of depth. The deeper a diver goes, the greater the narcosis. Although nitrogen is the principle component of air (79 percent), other gases in a diver’s tank are also narcotic at great depths, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide.
For this reason, many training agencies are now referring to the narcosis caused by breathing compressed air at depth as ‘inert gas narcosis’ rather than ‘nitrogen narcosis’. Of course, oxygen and carbon dioxide are not inert gases, so perhaps the best term to use is simply ‘narcosis’. Whatever you call it, the point is that more than one gas may influence a diver’s level of narcosis underwater.
Many divers compare narcosis to a feeling of pleasant drunkenness. In fact, divers sometimes use the ‘Martini Rule’ to roughly estimate the effects of narcosis during a dive. Depending upon the source, the Martini Rule states that for every 9m-18m of depth, a diver experiences the narcotic effect of drinking one martini. Well now, scientists in a research lab deep in the Arctic Circle have stumbled on a ‘cure’ for this intoxicating side-effect of diving deep. While looking to develop a preventative medicine to combat alcoholism, they produced a gel which absorbs inert gases and thus completely removes the effects of narcosis.
Flash-frozen into pellet-shaped tablets, by simply chewing on one prior to a dive, you can happily descend to 80m or more – previously an area the sole preserve of technical divers – on good old-fashioned compressed air and be just as clear-headed at your max depth as you were on the surface.
The scientists have yet to patent the innovative gel tablets – expected to sell under the name ‘Obirah’ – but keep an eye out for them coming soon to a dive centre near you!
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