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The Dangers of the Whippets Drug

whippets drug

The term “whippets” or “whip-its” is a slang term for nitrous oxide gas, when used recreationally, as a drug. Some other street names for whippets drug include laughing gas, nitro, balloons, nos, nangs, hippy crack, buzz bomb, or simply “nitrous,” but it’s known as whippets because it can be found in aerosol whipped cream canisters. The gas is also commonly used in dental offices and hospitals as a sedative or a mild anesthesia. 

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Understanding Whippets: Definition and Overview

When whippets are abused, they’re often inhaled directly from a small metal canister, but it can also be common practice to place the gas into a balloon and then inhale small amounts from the balloon. People may also cover their face with a mask or bag while inhaling to ensure most of the gas is inhaled, a dangerous move that can hinder breathing and impede oxygen intake, especially if the individual disassociates during use. It produces a short, euphoric high, which wears off quickly but can cause serious damage to the brain and body. Because nitrous oxide is legal to purchase, those who use it recreationally may not know how dangerous it can be. 

In this article, we will further explore what whippets are, the consequences of whippets drug use, and the types of treatment available for those who have been using inhalant drugs like whippets. 

The Short-term Effects of Whippets on the Body and Mind

When a person inhales nitrous oxide, they may enjoy the short-term intoxicating effects it produces. They can feel euphoric, numb, and giddy, or they may feel sedated or even hallucinate. The most intense sensations usually last only a few minutes and will completely wear off after half an hour or so. Short-term effects of using whippets include:

  • Dissociation, with a lowered ability to sense pain, sound, and touch.
  • A euphoric high as oxygen is cut off from the brain.
  • Lessened emotional responses.
  • Loss of coordination and light-headedness that can result in injuries like broken bones and head injuries.
  • Frostbite from canisters.
  • Slowed brain activity.
  • Relaxed muscles, tiredness, or weakness.
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or false beliefs.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Tingling sensations.
  • Blurred eyesight.

Long-term Consequences of Whippets Drug Use

Although all the long-term effects of whippets are not fully known, it is well known that this drug’s use over time can cause serious, chronic health problems, including drug addiction, such as:

  • Brain damage.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Liver damage.
  • Kidney damage or failure.
  • Coordination problems.
  • Severe vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Memory loss.
  • Ringing or buzzing in ears.
  • Hearing or vision loss.
  • Breathing trouble.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Reproductive issues.
  • Anemia.
  • Incontinence.
  • Bone marrow damage.
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet.
  • Limb spasms.
  • Muscle atrophy.
  • Behavioral development issues.
  • Depression.
  • Psychosis.
  • Psychological addiction.

Some of these issues are caused by repeated asphyxiation, as the lack of oxygen in the blood causes organs like kidneys and liver to work harder or fail. Whippets also reduce the body’s vitamin B12 absorption, causing nerve and muscle damage, while inhaling dangerous chemicals from industrial containers causes even more issues throughout the body. 

The Rise in Whippets Usage: Trends and Statistics

People have abused nitrous oxide since medical students held “laughing gas parties” in the 1700s, but when the laws surrounding the gas changed in the 1990s, more people had access, and over the past 30 years, it has grown to become a public health concern in the US. 

what are whippets

According to a 2016 survey on drug use and health, over 9% of Americans have tried inhalants, with around 11.8 million people reporting nitrous oxide misuse in their lifetime, and in 2019, that number has risen to nearly 13 million, with over 2.1 million reporting having used the drug in the past year. Experts believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a further increase, with many participants unaware of the adverse effects of inhaling the gas. Most first-time users are still teenagers, on average 16 to 17 years old. 

Comparing Whippets to Other Inhalants

Inhalants are any kind of chemical vapors or gases that people breathe in to get high. Along with whippets, other commonly inhaled substances include:

  • Aerosols, which may include spray paint, hairspray, fabric protectors, and cooking oil sprays.
  • Gases along with nitrous oxide may include chloroform, halothane, refrigerants, butane, or propene.
  • Volatile solvents like paint thinners, gasoline, glue, markers, dry-cleaning chemicals, or degreasers.
  • Nitrites, which are often sold as “video head cleaner” or “liquid aroma” but are used to dilate blood vessels and relax muscles.

When compared to other inhalants, a person using the whippets drug takes more time to become addicted because it doesn’t produce the same type of dopamine and serotonin rushes that other drugs do, but rather deprives the brain of oxygen and increases carbon dioxide in the body. That said, it can still be habit-forming, and over time, a person can become psychologically addicted, which is why you should seek addiction treatment.

Legal Status and Risks of Whippets Drug

When purchased for legal reasons, nitrous oxide is legal and is not regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That said, if you’re caught using the whippets drug, driving after inhaling whippets, or buying and selling nitrous for the purpose of intoxication, you may be arrested by the police. Seek drug treatment in California before it’s too late.

Along with legal trouble, using whippets also puts you at risk of:

  • Coma or sudden death due to a condition called “sudden sniffing death,” heart failure that can happen after just one “huffing” session, and you’re more at risk if you exercise after inhaling gas.
  • Suffocation, especially if you pass out holding a bag over your nose and mouth.
  • Frostbite on your lips, throat, or nose when inhaling from a canister.
  • Ruptured lung tissue due to the canister’s gas pressure.
  • Huffing while pregnant can cause premature birth, birth defects, or stillbirth.
  • Long-term organ damage.
  • Burns due to canister explosions if used near open flames, cigarettes, or other heat sources.
  • Injury due to faulty or cracked gas dispensers that may explode.
  • Accidental injury due to sudden intoxication and light-headedness.
  • Mental health disorders may be exacerbated and include pronounced self-destructive behavior.

Treatment and Recovery from Whippets Drug Abuse

While whippets aren’t physically addictive, the gas may activate certain “mesolimbic dopaminergic” neurons in the brain, which can cause psychological dependence. A person with this type of disorder may become agitated when not using the gas and have cravings for it that will cause them to act out of character, even going to extremes to get more despite the dangerous side effects. 

Common signs a person may have a whippet addiction include:

  • Strange-smelling breath.
  • Frequent sore throats and facial rashes.
  • Reduced cognitive function with memory loss.
  • Possessing lots of whipped cream, deflated balloons, or small metal canisters.
  • Personality changes or changes in friend groups.
  • Unexplained injuries or money issues.
  • Becoming more socially withdrawn.

Anybody with a substance use disorder can benefit from spending time in an inpatient residential treatment facility or outpatient rehab. Resurgence Behavioral Health is a safe, non-judgmental place with customized treatment plans designed to help you stop using whippets on your terms.

If you or a loved one want to know more about treatment for whippet abuse and addiction, please contact Resurgence Behavioral Health today or call 855-458-0050. With evidence-based therapies, comfortable facilities, and high-quality medical care, we can give you the support and treatments you need to stop substance abuse for a good while helping you achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.


Research | Editorial

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