Freediving narcosis is a result of nitrogen building up in our bodies. It happens on long, deep dives, due to the high partial pressure at depth. According to Kirkland, narcosis is a “change in consciousness, neuromuscular function, and behavior brought on by breathing compressed inert gasses.” How can we deal with it? Gary McGrath recently commented on his experience with narcosis on the Freedive Cafe podcast. Here's what he said.
Dealing WIth Narcosis During The Ascent
"It’s only just recently that I’m trying and make friends with narcosis. I kinda never had any experience of it but once I started consistently to freedive over -105m, I can guarantee that I’m going to have some sort of narcosis. The way down is normally fine, on the way up I tend to sometimes just miss the ascent; I’m just on autopilot. I’m turning at the bottom, making my way up, I don’t know where the last minute has gone, and all of a sudden I’m up at -30m with the safeties.
Also, on that last comp dive I did, I didn’t remember this but I was told a few days later, I was making faces and sticking my tongue out at the safety divers! At a competition dive, you know, at -112m going for a national record, I shouldn’t be really messing around like that. That was definitely narcosis you know, it was making me be a bit silly, it’s a bit embarrassing actually.
I am slowly starting to think “ok, narcosis is a thing”. The advice I’ve been given is “try to be more lucid on the way up”, perhaps I should consider opening my eyes more and focusing on the rope, because in the past I’ve kept my eyes shut cause the last thing I want is to notice the -80m mark and that kind of thing, I don’t really want that thought, but I definitely need to wake up a bit.
If you’ve had 4-5 beers and you feel a bit tipsy, if you close your eyes, chances are that you are going to fall over because you’ve just removed one of your senses. So having your eyes shut or being blurry underwater is like removing a sense which can make you be even more disorientated. I don’t really wanna go down that route. Regarding fluid goggles, the ones that I’ve tried don’t seem that great. So, during the next depth period, I am going to practice being a bit more lucid and bring in some anchors to my visualization. Perhaps a dive time alarm or something like that, something to wake me up when I’m 3/4 of the way up. I’m talking to as many people as I can with that sort of experience as it’s a new thing for me".