10 Tips to Beat Nitrogen Narcosis

Samuel Blake
Written by Samuel Blake

While it can be fun to be ‘narced’ or feeling the effects of nitrogen narcosis, it can also become pretty dangerous, pretty quickly if you are caught unaware. If you missed our previous post about Nitrogen Narcosis then be sure to have a quick read.

Is it possible to beat narcosis? Yes and no. In the following post we will explore 10 tips to beat nitrogen narcosis.

What is Nitrogen Narcosis

First and foremost, inert gas narcosis (the technical term for nitrogen narcosis) is a deep diving condition that commences in roughly 100feet (30m) of water.

Why? Nitrous oxide is a general anaesthetic that is used in the medical industry and although no one knows for sure what causes nitrogen narcosis while scuba diving, it is believed it is the same process. Many gases exhibit anaesthetic effects at high pressures.

Many breathable gases will react with body tissues in particular the lipid tissues differently.The brain, being predominantly lipid feels the effects.

Top 10 Tips for How To Beat Narcosis

Ok so let’s assume you won’t feel the affects until you are diving deeper than 100feet. While there are no guarantees you can prevent becoming narced we can try to minimise it or have the brain compensate.

  • Always make sure you are clean and sober when diving. Do not take over the counter medications such as Sudafed as they can increase the effects. If you are hungover then postpone your dive adventure.
  • Ensure you are well rested. Fatigue can be a trigger of nitrogen narcosis as can anxiety and lack of confidence while diving. Stress can also impair your thoughts and increase the risk.
  • Make sure your regulator is clean and it good condition. The easier and more evenly you can breath is going to reduce the carbon dioxide levels. Carbon dioxide can be a trigger for nitrogen narcosis.
  • Pay attention to your breathing, rapid, heavy breathing will increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your system.
  • Make sure you are confident with your safety gear and protocol. Understanding how to share air with your buddy or dump weights will be beneficial if you end up in an undesirable situation. If you are well versed in it then under the effects of nitrogen narcosis your body will just automatically do it.
  • Descend slowly, do not drop too fast.
  • Be confident with your diving yet prepared for the worst.
  • Create a check system with your dive buddy.

How To Tell If You Are Narced

This is actually really tough because if you are narced chances are you will forget to do this. If you are doing deep dives it’s safer to assume that you will become narced at some stage and that way can plan for it.

I recommend creating your own ‘sobriety’ test if you will. While it does have room for error it is better than being completely unprepared.

My Do I have Nitrogen Narcosis Test:

  • Check depth and tank pressure every few minutes and make note on your diving slate.
  • Check your dive buddies depth and pressure and make note on your slate too.
  • Have you dive buddy repeat the above steps.
  • This provides a good baseline to compare both divers. Valuable if one diver becomes narced.
  • Come up with a testing system between you and your dive buddy before you descend. I like to play a basic math game. I hold up 1 finger and my buddy then adds 1 one- they will hold up 2 fingers. Next they may hold up 5 fingers and I’ll hold up 6 and so on.

While these are not guarantees they can act as an additional safety feature. The key thing to remember is that you are continuously checking your air and sharing that information with your buddy.

It is hard to focus on multiple things while under the effects of nitrogen narcosis however if you can focus all your attention on one thing then you should be fine.

Lastly just watch how your dive buddy is behaving down below. If something is really out of character then ascend a couple of meters.

Contributing Factors to Nitrogen Narcosis

Every diver is going to be affected differently at different depths. Although they say 100 feet is where you can expect to feel ‘narced’ this is a guide. Just like adults will feel the effects of alcohol differently and after different amounts so too will divers.

There can be a few contributing factors which can increase the effects and include:

  • Drug interaction. While we know that while taking certain medication we are advised not to drive the same applies for diving. Some drugs can interact very intensely but this will change with the person. For some people simply taking an anti-motion sickness medication they can greatly feel the effects of narcosis. Not only at a shallower depth but also at a much higher intensity. Although research in this field is scarce (probably because it’s not life threatening) it is believed that like some medications increase the alcohol and it’s not unreasonable to assume that they could also increase the effects of nitrogen narcosis.
  • Alcohol. Drinking and scuba diving is a massive no. Your brain is already in an altered state so diving is a terrible idea. Not to mention many experts believe that nitrogen and alcohol can have an even stronger effect as they both interact with the nervous system in the body. Even diving with a hangover is a bad idea.
  • Carbon dioxide is a surprisingly large factor. If there are high levels in your blood then the interaction with nitrogen is going to increase the nitrogen narcosis.
  • Fatigue. If you are already tired or doing lots of work at depth there is a link to increased effects of nitrogen narcosis.
  • Cold. Being cold has also been noted as an increasing cause of nitrogen narcosis. If we look at the effects of hypothermia- mental dulling, tiredness, amnesia then the symptoms are quite similar.

Can Divers Adapt to Nitrogen Narcosis?

There are many scuba divers who believe they have adapted to nitrogen narcosis. Whether or not the diver has just learnt to deal with the feeling or if the body has actually adapted is impossible to know.

Bottom Line

Nitrogen narcosis is a condition that effects scuba divers at roughly 100feet of depth. While there is no sure way to beat the feeling there are methods that can be put in place to reduce the effects. The most important advice I can share is never go diving alone, always make sure you have a dive buddy and stay close.

About the author

Samuel Blake

Samuel Blake

My name is Samuel Blake. I am the founder of this scuba blog. I have been a diver for over 5 years. I care about helping you choose and decide on the best diving products.

Leave a Comment