Am I narced yet?

Most of us divers, regardless if you are a brand new diver or super experienced, has at some point come across the word nitrogen narcosis, or getting narced. It's very strangely used in diving, like this super mystical thing that only really experienced divers with equipment from outer space can get. Well it's not actually that complicated, and definatlly not that mystical. 

So in order to explain all of this, we'll start with the question - what is it?


Well there is the complicated, physical and physiological way of explaining, that contains a bunch of these laws figured out by all of these great scientists. However I'll explain it in the more "narcosis for dummies" kinda way! (If you happen to be interested in the full explanation - there is a great book called The Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving). 

In the air that we breath there is some oxygen and also some nitrogen.  When we breath the air on the surface nothing will happen, because we are born on the surface and our body is built to handle it. When you however go diving you're putting a bunch of this really heavy water around you. The weight of the water is therefore putting more pressure on your body (hence why you have to equalize) and it begins to mess with the air that you're breathing. Firstly it will make you breath more air, but also a higher partial pressure oxygen and more nitrogen (not to get confused with percent).

So now something happens, your body is suddenly taking in more nitrogen than it is supposed to get... All around your body you have this excess nitrogen floating around, going from your lungs to your blood, to your organs and to your brain. And what's in your brain? Nervcells. 

These nervcells can not handle the extra nitrogen and starts sending wrong signals to your body (much like the effect as when you are drunk), or to compare it with boxing - it's a Knock Out.

If you are now wondering, well why are we not affected by the oxygen, it's under the same pressure? That is absolutely true, but the oxygen is being used by your body to keep you basically alive, so it is a lot harder to get to much oxygen in your body. (But yes it's absolutely possible, and again if you want to know more - read the amazing book previously mentioned). Alright back to the narcosis.

A normal missconseption that you can only get narced if you go to 30m or deeper. This is a somewhat modified truth, as the nitrogen is already starting to mess with your brain shallow (like 10-15m), BUT it's usually too little at that point for any diver to recpgnize it. So yes for the full effect - go deep (within the limits of your certification).


If you're one of those divers that never had it but really really really want to get it.... My tip for you is to do a dive to 30m (assuming your AOW certified), but make the decent faster than normal. Now, by fast I don't mean - so fast you don't have time to equalize, but a faster than normal speed. Usually that will do the trick! A word of caution though, narcosis can be a devil in disguise (or in diving lingo - the rapture of the deep) - meaning it can affect your behavior to the point it becomes dangerous, so always treat narcosis with respect. 

How do I know if I have it? 

Well the most common sign is euphoria! Everything is so great and all the fish are alive and amazing, and the coral is so beautiful and so on....(I would even say that the more adjectives you are thinking - the more narced you are.) The next thing is that suddenly your computer and SPG is for some reason much harder to understand, like: what is this big number in the middle stand for? Or: is the SPG showing 100 or 150 bar? Questions that you normally wouldn't ask yourself, right? Because it is the divers perception that is being altered, recognizing and diagnosing narcosis on you self is quite difficult, so as a buddy team you should be vigilant with each other, and be observant to possible signs and symptoms. 


However, some people find it a bit uncomfortable, and can become anxious because they feel like they're not in control, which is quite understandably scary. But fear not - because narcosis is as easy to get rid of as to get. If we get narcosis because of a high pressure, decreasing the pressure (aka ascending a bit) will make the narcosis reduce or go away completely. 

The thing with narcosis as well is that it is totally unpredictable, so one dive to 30m you might be narked out of your head, but the next one...nothing. 

In a blog a couple of weeks ago we wrote about visiting a recompression chamber, giving you a chance to experience narcosis on the surface, talking and solving math problems, pretty cool huh? In those chambers you wont notice the effect until pretty deep, but looking from the outside or in a video, the reality looks completely different... Narked at 10 meters! Staying safe in diving is should always be your first priority, and if you feel that you cannot handle the narcosis, you should take action. But from diver to diver, there is no harm enjoying a little well earned narcosis. 

Here is a video from Youtube showing how narcosis can make you!