Whippit or Whippet: Nitrous is No Laughing Matter
Table of Contents
- Whippit or Whippet: Nitrous is No Laughing Matter
- What is a Whippit?
- Spelling and Slang Terms for Nitrous Oxide
- Who Uses Nitrous Oxide Gas Legitimately?
- What does Nitrous Oxide Feel Like?
- Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide
- The Dangers of Whippits
- Tony Hsieh and Environmental Risks of Nitrous Oxide
- B12 Depletion and Whippits
- Oxygen Deprivation and Whippits or Whip-its
- Myeloneuropathy and the Effects Of Whippits
- Chargers Vs. Crackers Vs. Balloons
- Can You Overdose From Whippits?
- Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
- Addiction to Whippets
- Long Term Recovery is Possible
- Medically Reviewed By
While it may have a fun name, whippits are no child’s game. The term of huffing nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans is a low-risk way of getting high. Nitrous oxide deprives the body of oxygen and has a euphoric effect for a few seconds. In earlier days, nitrous oxide was called laughing gas, but today it’s taken on a whole slew of new nicknames. Whippits is one of them.
People didn’t just discover its potential for making someone high, however. It’s been in everyday use recreationally since the 19th century, although at that time, it was a lot harder to get hold of canisters than simply go to the nearest grocery store and buy a new can of whipped cream.
Its initial uses were as an anesthetic. Early doctors noticed that patients who were injured while on “laughing gas” seemed to feel less pain because of their injuries. Even today, anesthetics based on nitrous oxide are in use. However, it’s found a much more sinister home as an easily abused drug.
The chemical can be found in several over-the-counter uses as a propellant. Whipped cream cans are the safest ones, hence they are most commonly used to get high, but it also appears in aerosol paint cans and pesticides. It’s also been used in sports cars to increase performance and acceleration. How did nitrous oxide go from a well-respected anesthetic to a potentially abusable drug in less than a century? Let’s take a look.
What is a Whippit?
Whippits are steel cartridges filled with nitrous oxide. They’re found at the bottom of cans and are used as dispensers to fill the can with nitrous oxide. Once the can is filled on the inside, the contents of the can is propelled through the nozzle. Within the US, whippets are not illegal, despite their massive potential for abuse.
These canisters are crucial to the functioning of several modern conveniences. Without them, businesses would have to find a new propellant for their sealed aerosol cans. Even a single whippit tin won’t cause lifelong addiction. However, the real problem with whippits comes from overconsumption of the drug.
When a person uses a whippit, they get a euphoric feeling that makes them want to laugh. Nitrous oxide contained within the canister is responsible for this feeling. When used continually, whippits can create addictive behavior. While several other drugs have a more massive reach around the country, the use of whippits has been steadily on the rise. Some experts agree that this can be due to the availability and affordability of the drug compared to its peers. However, many don’t see it as a severe problem that needs attention. The exact number of inhalant users is hard to pin down, but some estimates put whippits among the most abused inhalants on the market.
Spelling and Slang Terms for Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide is known by many names depending on its use. It’s important to remember that nitrous oxide has legitimate uses as well, and the slang names may refer to those. Among the common names that are used to refer to nitrous oxide on the street are:
- NOs: When infused into a vehicle’s fuel system, nitrous oxide is called NOs, a chemical that allows for a brief speed boost when used in the engine.
- Laughing Gas: This name refers to the feeling of euphoria that the drug gives its users.
- Hippy Crack: Another common street name used for when dealers are distributing canisters of whippits.
- N2O: The chemical formula for nitrous oxide sees two molecules of nitrogen bonded to one molecule of oxygen. This nickname reflects the chemical formula.
- Sweet Air: A derivation from the feeling of euphoria that the person consuming the nitrous oxide gets.
- Balloons: An alternative means of inhaling the gas is by filling balloons with it and then sucking the air out of them. This nickname refers to that practice.
- Nos, Nossies, or Nangs: Derivative of the portmanteau name of the drug, NOs.
Who Uses Nitrous Oxide Gas Legitimately?
As mentioned above, street racers routinely use NOs to “soup up” their cars. When NO is added to a car’s combustion system, the nitrogen and oxygen break down because of the engine’s heat. Naturally, this means that the engine now has access to increased oxygen. That minimal increase is enough to give a temporary boost to the machine that might result in faster movement for the car over a short period.
The downside of this use is that too much oxygen can cause the engine to catch fire and burn out if the system is damaged. Street racers that engage in this practice spend a lot of time tuning their delivery systems to ensure performance without the risk of fire.
Nitrous oxide is still used in clinical applications as an anesthetic, although it’s usually mixed with oxygen in these cases. In dentistry, nitrous oxide makes up the most widely used general anesthetic. It’s usually not used alone and is combined with other intravenous or inhalation-based drugs to get its job done.
It remains one of the safest methods of inducing minimal or moderate sedation in dental patients. This ability stems partially from the general depression of senses that follow from nitrous oxide inhalation. It’s the same sensory deprivation that leads to users of whippits seeking the drug. However, since the concentration of the substance is so low, the effects are short-lasting, encouraging users to try it again and again.
What does Nitrous Oxide Feel Like?
When a person takes their first hit of nitrous oxide, they get a tingling feeling in their arms and legs. There might also be a feeling of vibrations and buzzing within the person’s ears. A sense of happiness usually accompanies these feelings. Some users have referred to this condition as feeling “happy-drunk.”
The person feels intoxicated but isn’t worried about their situation. The high from taking a hit from a whippit doesn’t last very long at all, and it’s usually over within a few minutes of the initial inhalation. The response to the drug varies depending on the person’s anatomy, with some people having extremely short highs from the substance and other reporting feelings lasting several minutes.
There hasn’t been a lot of research into how nitrous oxide works, although some experts believe that it has something to do with the lack of oxygen to the brain. However, the chemical has a depressive effect on all senses, leading other researchers to question the mechanism of its action. Nitrous oxide’s danger comes from suffocation.
This relates to how nitrous oxide binds to oxygen within the blood, making transport to external tissues much more difficult. Over time, a person huffing whippits will lead to irreparable damage to their body tissue through a lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, the apparent warning signs of whippit abuse only happen after repeated use, where the damage has already begun to set in.
Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide
Whippits are dangerous no matter who consumes them. Unfortunately, the prime demographic for its use seems to be teenagers and those early in their life development, In these cases, the damage associated with whippits might be even more catastrophic because the users’ brains are still developing. A teenager involved in whippit abuse may face lifelong development problems, including mental impairment. Among the side effects of consuming nitrous oxide are:
- Sweating profusely
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea and vomiting
Regular use of the drug can lead to several undesirable outcomes, including:
- Paralysis, particularly of the legs
- Spinal cord disease
- Muscle Weakness
- Brain Damage
- Impairment of coordination or thought
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Damage to peripheral nerves
While these present real and terrible dangers to using the drug, some even more sinister things may occur for regular drug users. Whippits are an unpredictable drug and using them means taking risks with your life.
The Dangers of Whippits
Many users aren’t aware of the inherent dangers of whippits. Most see it as a temporary escape and a way to get high at a low cost. However, there are more intense problems that someone taking whippits ought to be aware of.
- Puking and Falling Unconscious: Users of nitrous oxide deprive their body and brain of oxygen which might result in losing consciousness. When this happens, they may vomit. If the person is on their back when this happens, they risk suffocating on their puke.
- Asphyxia: Since oxygen is crucial to the functioning of body systems, reducing its intake can lead to several problems of varying severity. Some dangerous practices such as using a gas mask or putting a bag on your head to increase the feeling of euphoria may end in asphyxia.
- Unlabeled Chemicals: The chemicals within a whippit canister might be safe, but if it’s in another unlabeled container, there’s no telling what’s in the gas. There have been reports of individuals inhaling gas from balloons and being hospitalized or dying because of the concoction of gases within them.
- Permanent Spinal Cord Damage: If a person becomes addicted to whippits, they may start using it more and more every day. Continued use of the gas leads to a condition known as subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord. A person afflicted with this condition can get over it if they get a shot of vitamin B12 fast enough. If not, their spinal cord will degenerate and paralyze them for life.
Whippits can be a dangerous drug, especially if a person is addicted to the feeling it gives to them. While the primary demographic of users are teenagers and young adults, that doesn’t mean that they are the only people who use the drug. There are several other cases of individuals from all walks of life using the substance.
Tony Hsieh and Environmental Risks of Nitrous Oxide
In late 2020, the founder of the shoe and clothing retailer Zappos Tony Hsieh locked himself in a shed which eventually caught fire and burned with him inside. Fire officials described the scene as littered with canisters of nitrous oxide among other flammable substances, a liquor bottle, and drug paraphernalia. The former businessman’s slide into nitrous oxide use started with ketamine. In a recent lawsuit, Hsieh’s family came out to the public about the man’s past drug abuse.
They noted that his abnormal behavior got worse over time and blamed his inner circle for supplying him first with ketamine and then nitrous oxide. The family contends that this was done purposefully to take advantage of Hsieh and his business empire. They charge that Hsieh’s secretary and other people conspired to keep him high so that they could use his signature for important papers.
Close friends of the businessman claim that Hsieh would huff up to fifty (50) cartridges of nitrous oxide a day at the height of his usage. Some associates described his home as a collection of canisters littered all over the ground and the premises. In the fire that caused his death, some experts speculate that an unattended flame caught the rest of the shed Hsieh was seated in on fire.
Experts proposed that Hsieh was using nitrous oxide at the time and was in no fit state to monitor the flame, which got out of control and consumed the entire shed. The risks of nitrous stand out in stark relief in this case. The lack of attention to one’s surroundings is a typical side-effect of the substance. In this case, as in so many others, it could lead to death for the person taking the substance.
B12 Depletion and Whippits
As mentioned before, whippits can lead to severe vitamin B12 depletion in people who use them regularly. Vitamin B12 is crucial in the body’s DNA synthesis and methylation reactions. Typically, vitamin B12 deficiency is seen in individuals with a high vegetarian/vegan diet. They lack the incoming B12 from animal sources. Researchers have found that severe vitamin B12 depletion can lead to extreme events such as skin hyperpigmentation, megaloblastic anemia (low iron), and spinal cord degeneration. Recreational use of nitrous oxide has similar effects on the body by reducing its ability to uptake vitamin B12.
Oxygen Deprivation and Whippits or Whip-its
Another common side effect of using whippits is oxygen deprivation. When a person is huffing whippets, they might be using specialized equipment or might just be taking it directly from the whipped cream can canisters. When they breathe in the nitrous oxide, it reacts with the hemoglobin in the blood and replaces the oxygen that would naturally go there. The body’s oxygen transport system becomes compromised as breath after breath has less oxygen to get to the tissues.
The extremities feel the lack of oxygen first, which is they a person who’s using the substance gets tingling feelings in their extremities. It’s a warning sign that the cells there aren’t getting enough oxygen. The tingling is similar to the “pins and needles” feeling a person gets when their extremities “fall asleep.”
Using whippits consistently over a long period makes the body’s cells lose their oxygen source and eventually die. Loss of feeling in some parts of the body is due to this deoxygenation and eventual suffocation of those cells. However, the more significant danger is to the brain. Lack of oxygen also affects brain cells, leading to them dying off significantly. In developing young adults, this could lead to the characteristic reduced brain function of someone abusing whippits. The destruction of these cells may stunt a person’s mental development for years to come, making it even more insidious.
Myeloneuropathy and the Effects Of Whippits
Another less-understood effect of constantly using nitrous oxide to get high is its impact on the human body’s nervous system. As mentioned before, when oxygen deprivation hits, some tingles happen along the arms and legs, especially the extremities. The death of sensory neurons in these areas typically follows quickly after this fact. There have been medical cases presented that show an even more advanced form of this happening. A case recorded in the journal of Intractable and Rare Diseases Research notes a man checking into a medical facility with rapid deterioration in feeling in his legs.
Three days after the man was admitted, the prickling sensation that typically comes with nitrous oxide use extended to the man’s nipple-line. His medical history described that he had a history of both marijuana use and regular consumption of whippits (over 20 canisters per day over three years). On examination, his body was found to have severe vitamin B12 deficiency and lesions on his spine between the fourth and sixth vertebra. A combination treatment of folic acid and vitamin B12 allowed the man to recover from this condition. However, this underlines the reality of myeloneuropathy developing due to continued and extended whippit usage.
Chargers Vs. Crackers Vs. Balloons
While inhalation is how people use nitrous oxide, there are several methods of delivery that a person can use to get the gas into their system. The most common one and the one used by most new users is via the whipped cream charger. The chargers are designed to release nitrous oxide when the user presses the button atop the can.
By making minimum modifications, users can make the charger discharge their gas directly into their mouths so they can huff it. However, there are rumors that inhaling the gas directly from the canister can lead to lung damage or even make a lung explode. Other stories claim that using the charger directly could freeze a person’s lips. These rumors are unfounded, but they have led to different ways of taking the drug.
Balloons can be inflated from the charger allowing the user to inhale the gas slowly. In many situations, users who are unsure about using whippits may resort to using balloons since the methodology is much simpler. To fill the balloon, a user utilizes a charger that can securely enter the balloon’s mouth and keep the gas inside it until they’re done filling it.
Can You Overdose From Whippits?
The chance of overdosing from whippets is low, but it can still happen. Because it’s a gas, there are no medical guidelines for a “safe” concentration. The World Health Organization has given some general policies regarding chronic use of the gas. They state that the maximum exposure should be no more than 20 parts per billion, and for acute exposure, no more than 100 parts per billion. Someone inhaling nitrous oxide from a canister can quickly surpass this without even realizing it. If they keep using it past this point, they risk experiencing toxic overdose symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- Rapid heartbeat or arrhythmia
- Shortness of breath
- Bluish fingers, toes, and lips
- Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Tightness in the chest or choking
- Seizures or respiratory shutdown, which may be fatal
- Wheezing or coughing that gets worse over time
- Irritation in the eyes, throat, or nose
If these symptoms occur, the first and most important thing to do is to resume breathing regular air and contact emergency personnel. Over time symptoms dissipate but getting checked out by emergency medical personnel is in the person’s best interests.
Treatment for Inhalant Abuse
Unfortunately, standard drug testing can’t tell you when someone is abusing the substance because of how inhalants are taken and their effects on the body. When abusing whippits, one of the most common signs of its use is continual confusion or disorientation. However, this is difficult to pinpoint in some teenagers because of their natural propensity to seem disoriented. Another sign of use is constant complaints about a sore throat that won’t quit. Some users may develop a rash on their face or sores on their lips. Additionally, whippets may cause a person’s sleeping patterns to change. Again, this may also happen regularly with teenagers, so it’s not a sure sign of any abuse.
If a person has these initial warning signs and there is reason to believe they are using whippits, they may need to undergo clinical testing. Unfortunately, this testing is invasive, and many people won’t simply go through it to put others’ minds at ease. Laboratory testing will help to pinpoint abnormal liver enzymes that are a result of abusing whippits. Additionally, urine testing can trace chemicals like benzene, toluene, and similar substances if the drug is being used over a long period. If someone is found to abuse the substance, the treatment options can give them a fighting chance of overcoming their addiction to it.
Addiction to Whippets
In most other drugs cases, addiction comes from dependency, which develops from a person’s changed brain chemistry. For whippits, the addiction process is quite different. Inhalants like whippits change the blood’s concentration of oxygen. This leads to feelings of euphoria from oxygen deprivation. While whippits don’t alter a person’s brain chemistry as other drugs do, it creates similar “feel good” emotions. These feelings are what a person becomes addicted to, and by understanding this mechanic, individuals can find ways to overcome their addiction to the substance.
Since there is no physical addiction in the case of whippits, the only thing that a person needs to worry about is the psychological hold that the drug has on them. Luckily there are several ways of dealing with this type of addiction.
Therapy has been proven to help, and different treatment centers offer their own types of treatment to help their patients overcome the mental hold the substance has on them. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown significant promise in helping individuals overcome the psychological impact of whippits. CBT offers actionable ways of handling stressful situations that might lead to relapse. By spotting the triggers to these stressors, a person can potentially avoid the urges that lead them back into use.
Other treatment methods include activity and engagement programs. Most inpatient facilities have programs that help take a person’s mind off the substance and give them a healthy pastime to channel their energies into. These programs help encourage hobbies that continue to provide direction and structure to a recovering person’s life. Several support groups help to add accountability to a person’s recovery journey. These support groups can aid in building friendships within the community and discovering things that they have in common with others. Community is a vital part of maintaining long-term sobriety in addiction treatment.
Long Term Recovery is Possible
Many people who have dealt with inhalant use disorder might feel that their problem is fringe and untreatable, but that’s not the case. Not only is recovery possible, but with the proper support and recovery center, you can have a long and healthy life after you leave the substance behind.
Our facilities are designed to deal with all types of rehab, and we offer professional mental help support for our recovering patients. It’s the ideal place to come for whippits recovery. If you or a loved one are suffering from the effects of whippits addiction, call us today or come in to see us. We’ll guide you to a better tomorrow.
Brandon is a highly skilled content writer and behavioral health marketer with over a decade of experience. In his own words: in my work with Find Addiction Rehabs, I have dedicated my expertise to a cause close to my heart – substance abuse recovery. Through my passion for the field, I’ve successfully compiled a track record of crafting compelling content that educates, inspires, and supports those on their recovery journeys.