Sedatives | CO2: Natural Sedative and Tranquilizer
(adjective) means "having a soothing or calming effect; reducing anxiety,
stress, excitement or irritability". As a noun, the
means an agent or a drug that produces a soothing, calming, or tranquilizing
While considering mental health of people, the most missing chemical in the
human brain is CO2 (see studies below), while oxygen is another required
sedative substance. CO2 is a powerful
natural sedative and tranquilizer. In
addition, CO2 supplies O2 for the body cells, brain cells included.
Medical research studies have clearly proven that
modern people breathe at rest about 2 times more
air than the medical norm (see the historical chart below).
Cell hypoxia leads to anaerobic respiration and accumulation of waste products
in brain tissues. Hence, oxygen is another natural agent that has sedative
The physiological norm for minute ventilation was established
about 100 years ago and it was also
the norm for ordinary people at those times.
Since modern people breathe about twice more, they have less CO2 in their
brains, though both oxygen and carbon dioxide is crucial for the stability and normal work of nerves.
CO2 concentrations create conditions for the normal work of the nervous system.
While hypocapnia (low CO2 level) is one of the most common breathing disorders
in the sick and it naturally leads to anxiety.
More than five decades ago, one of the world's leading physiological magazines,
Physiological Reviews, published an extensive research article, "Physiological
effects of hyperventilation". In this article, Dr. Brown (the
Department of Physiology at the University of Kansas Medical Center; USA)
provided an analysis of almost 300 professional physiological and medical studies. When considering the
effects of carbon dioxide deficiency on the nerve cells, he stated, “Studies designed to determine the
effects produced by hyperventilation on nerve and muscle have been consistent in
their finding on increased irritability” (Brown, 1953). Muscles and nerve cells
become abnormally sensitive or irritated due to a lack of this
In 1965 the Journal of Physiology
(another leading physiological magazine) published the article titled "Cortical CO2 tension and
neuronal excitability". It was shown that CO2 has a strong calming
effect on the excessive excitability of brain areas responsible for thinking
(Krnjevic et al, 1965).
In 1988 physiologists from Duke University (Durham, the UK) suggested in their summary, “The brain, by
regulating breathing, controls its own excitability” (Balestrino & Somjen, 1988).
Do modern physiologists
have different conclusions?
According to a recent study of Finnish scientists from the Laboratory of Neurology of the University of
Joensuu, hyperventilation "leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of
cortical neurons" (Huttunen et. al, 1999). The study was published in
the Experimental Brain Research. Note that scientific research studies found
that overbreathing is present in 100% of people with chronic disorders (see
links with dozens of studies below).
of normal perception and stability, which is characterized
by the objective reflection and analysis of reality, the
brain starts to generate its own “spontaneous and asynchronous”
ideas, projects, explanations, and interpretations of real events. Moreover, an
excited brain can create problems that, in reality, do not exist.
Anxiety, fear, panic attacks, and many other negative emotions and
states naturally appear in people who have breathing disorders (breathing
problems or difficulties), while CO2 is
natural sedative and tranquilizer of
nerve cells. It is crucial for the stability and normal
work of nerves, and the treatment and prevention of anxiety,
stress, insomnia, phobias, and many other mental health problems.
Furthermore, these calmative effects of carbon dioxide were known to dozens
of medical professionals who applied CO2 for the
treatment and prevention of epilepsy
seizures and sleep seizures.
The key natural sedative and perception of the outer world
Normal perception requires a calm
brain so that our senses and nerve cells can freely transmit correct
information for objective analysis. In other words, we need minimal abnormal
interference from our nervous system (self-generated signals) during the
process of communication and analysis.
Hyperventilation, on the other hand, plays a key role in our immediate
reaction to stress or in an emergency situation when our well-being or life is
in danger. At such moments we do not need the objective world. We need to
save/fight for our lives. Hence our minds need threats, enemies, stress sources
or outside problems to deal with.
Sometimes an obvious or visible threat is absent (no enemies or threats are
seen). Then the excited brain can invent threats literally from nothing due to
“spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical neurons”
(see above). Hence, when we breathe more, we have a tendency to experience
anxiety and search for threats, enemies, problems, etc.
Related web page:
- Anxiety Breathing Disorders.
References (Effects of hypocapnia on neurological symptoms and mental states)
Allen TE, Agus B. (1968) Hyperventilation leading to hallucinations.
Am J Psychiatry 1968;125:632-7.
Bonn JA, Readhead CP, Timmons BH. Enhanced adaptive behavioural
response in agoraphobic patients pretreated with breathing retraining. Lancet 1982;ii: 665-9.
Garssen B, Van Veenendaal W, Bloemink R. Agoraphobia and the
hyperventilation syndrome. Behav Res Ther 1983;21:643-9.
Hibbert GA, Hyperventilation as a cause of panic attacks, Br Med J (Clin
Res Ed) 1984 January 28; 288(6413): 263–264.
Ker WJ, Dalton JW, Gliebe PA. Some physical phenomena associated with
the anxiety states and their relation to hyperventilation. Ann Intern Med 1937; 2: 962.
Ley R. Agoraphobia, the panic attack and the hyperventilation syndrome.
Behav Res Ther 1985; 23: 79-81.
Lum LC. Hyperventilation and anxiety states. JR Soc Med 1981; 74:
Magarian G. Hyperventilation syndromes: infrequently recognized common
expressions of anxiety and stress. Medicine 1982; 61: 219-336.
Salkovskis PM, Warwick HMC, Clark DM, Wessells DJ. A demonstration of
acute hyperventilation during naturally occurring panic attacks. Behav Res Ther 1986; 34: 91-4.
* Illustrations by Victor Lunn-Rockliffe
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