A third-year MIT student from Mission Viejo was found dead in his dorm room early Tuesday, apparently from an overdose of nitrous oxide, authorities said.
Richard Andrew Guy, 22, was found by another student in his East Campus residence hall on the Cambridge, Mass., campus about 12:20 a.m., officials said.
"It looks like an accidental death from nitrous oxide," said Frank Pasquarello, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Dept. "Apparently he was breathing it in. People experiment with that to see what happens. It's very unfortunate."
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is commonly used by dentists as a painkiller. When inhaled, it dissolves in the bloodstream, depleting the blood of oxygen and reducing its flow to the brain and other vital organs. Taken in small doses, the drug can produce a euphoric effect, but if the dose is too high the result can be fatal.
A spokesman for Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Guy was found near a plastic bag that he apparently had been using to inhale the gas. "Nitrous oxide is known to be used as an inhalant to get high, and we think that's what happened here," spokesman Ken Campbell said. "I wouldn't say that it's a huge problem, but there are people who have done it, and it's very tricky."
An autopsy by the Cambridge medical examiner found that Guy died of asphyxiation due to obstruction of the airways caused by nitrous oxide intoxication, Campbell said. An investigation is continuing, he said.
Guy, a physics major who lived alone, had been on campus since at least Friday, Campbell said.