Dismantling Narcosis

If you have ever seen a diver acting erratically or strangely during a deep dive, most probably he or she was enjoying a drunken drill from the depth. Nitrogen Narcosis is somehow like being tipsy but underwater. Comparing to alcohol, being drunk can be funny or extremely dangerous. We all have friends who turn very funny when they drink and others who react in a negative way. In turn, a diver can be very funny underwater or can pose a great danger to himself and others.


Nitrogen Narcosis is a phenomenon linked to increased pressure. It is defined as a reversible alteration of the state of consciousness of an individual in deep diving with compressed air. Sounds a bit confusing, right?

The reason why the Narcosis occurs is still a subject of discussion among scientists. The most accepted theory is that communication between the neurons in our brain, which is based on nitrogen bridges, is disturbed. As you know, while diving we accumulate Nitrogen in our body. One of the places where Nitrogen accumulates are the mentioned communication bridges, which increases the distance between the neurons. The longer the distance, the more time they need to communicate. 

Most of the divers are very happy after diving. We simply associate it with the excitement of exploring the underwater world. Many divers mention that they love scuba diving because the problems seem to stay at the surface. Others agree that the feeling of happiness underwater is can be rarely found in life on land.

There are lots of reasons why divers love spending their time below the surface. But there might be one more reason to add to all the others. Something that many divers are not aware of is that the symptoms of Nitrogen Narcosis can also appear in shallow depth. Although this symptoms are not important until reaching the 30 metres, practically we are under the effects of Nitrogen Narcosis during the whole dive, no matter the depth. Most probably we don't feel proper 'narked' at shallow levels, but our body is affected by the Nitrogen.

Like with many things in life, after a while a diver gets used to the effects of narcosis. Gradually he feels the effects less and less. That explains why sometimes you feel that in the beginning, when everything was new, it was more exciting. This might be also one reason why some divers become true addicts of the depth.  Apart from the challenge, the technical requirements, the fun and the possibility to explore new areas, the sensation in the stomach when diving deep also motivates them.

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 Many divers are not aware that the symptoms of Nitrogen Narcosis can also appear shallow depths. Practically we are under the effects of Nitrogen Narcosis during the whole dive, no matter the depth.


Most divers, not all, feel the effects of Narcosis from 30m onwards. Everybody gets "narked" after the border of 40m depth. That is one of the reasons why the limit of recreational diving is limited to 40 metres depth in most countries

The effects less than 30 meters can be:
-Little deterioration of reasoning
-Light euphoria

Effects deeper than 30 meters:
-Delayed response to visual and auditory stimuli.
-Alteration of reasoning and immediate memory.
-Errors of calculation and alteration in the capacity of decision making.
-Fixed ideas.
-Excess of trust and sense of well-being.


One possibility, especially for less experienced divers, is to dive shallower than 30 metres. But maybe one day you are experienced enough to cross that barrier. When you dive deeper than 30m, pay special attention to your buddy and be honest about yourself. In the case that you suspect that your buddy is showing symptoms of Nitrogen Narcosis and you evaluate the situation as non-safe, make him or her ascend shallower than the 30 metres level. Once you return to shallower depths the symptoms will disappear. The best part of Narcosis is that once you ascend to less than 30 meters it will just disappear by itself like nothing ever happened.

It is also important that you understand the role of proper training  in order to prevent diving accidents at a depth. That is why, when we do the Open Water Course, we limit the depth to 18m. To  overcome the barrier of the 30 you should consider seriously to do the Advanced Open Water Course. Why? Deep diving (at recreational levels) is completely safe, so far we have the training and sufficient knowledge. When a professional comes with you in your first deep dives, you will be assuring yourself a buddy that doesn't get affected by narcosis.  This means that he can take care of you and your safety while you enjoy that sensation of tingling and euphoria. Something like the friend who has to drive so he spends the night drinking only water.


There is no reason to be afraid of Nitrogen Narcosis and limit yourself because of fear. In fact, you will find very few experienced divers who do not love going deep. You just have to do the  things the way they have to be done. Follow the rules, be well trained, stay within your limits and be conscious about what you are doing. Do you want to go deep? Sign up for a Deep Diving Specialty Course and you will receive great training. Or start by doing the Advanced Open Water Course, get some experience and go step by step without pushing things.