On Grover’s Paper “Albert Behnke: Nitrogen Narcosis” [The Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 225-227, 2014]

Casey Grover and David Grover dedicated his paper to the Albert Behnke’s legacy in the description of Nitrogen Narcosis (later categorized as part of Inert Narcosis). Despite he was not the first person who described the effect (French physician named Colladon who reported the effect as early as 1826), his works at Harvard’s School of Public Health at 1935 made Nitrogen Narcosis became more understood.

Dr. Albert Behnke became more internationally recognized in his service to the rescue of the US Submarine USS Squalus which sank in New England Coast at 1939. However his research on the nitrogen as the cause of excitement at depth is important to the modern diving knowledge.

Following are the important descriptions from Dr. Albert Behnke:

“Air at high pressure produces a narcotic effect on man. The changes which first appear at 3 atmosphere of pressure are expressed in alterations of behavior, slowed mental activity, andimpaired neuro-muscular coordination.”

“Oxygen breathed for a period of several hours may disturb the coordination of finer movements, but euphoria is not present. In contrast with the effect of oxygen, the symptoms at higher air pressures are immediate in their onset. The increased partial pressure of oxygen, there fore cannot be a significant factor in the etiology of the changes.”

“If oxygen is exchanged, then the atmospheric nitrogen can be considered as mainly responsible for the narcotic action of air at high pressure. Although nitrogen is chemically inert, the physical property which renders this gas analogous to narcotic substance is its high solubility in lipoid matter.”

Later, Diving Physiologists added their research further to the works of Albert Behnke ini, some of them are Unsworth, Spira, and Melamel et.al.  which concluded that the diver could  develop the tolerance to nitrogen narcosis by frequent diving and exposure to the effect of compressed air at depth, similar to the tolerance developed to the effect of alcohol by repeated alcohol consumption.

Levett estimated that 9% of diving fatalities is caused by nitrogen narcosis, while Spira and Melamel et.al. gave tips that the symptom of nitrogen narcosis resolve rapidly with ascent of affected diver. Melamel also suggested that in order to avoid the effect of nitrogen narcosis diver should not dive below or at 33 to 45 meter.

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