What Are Whippet (Nitrous Oxide) Drugs?

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“Whippet” is a modern slang term that refers to small canisters or cartridges that contain nitrous oxide (N2O) gas, perhaps better known as “laughing gas.” When used recreationally, nitrous oxide gas is typically inhaled from the canister, sometimes using a balloon. The gas is held in the lungs for a short period before exhaling, and the process is typically repeated to achieve the desired effects, which include euphoria, hallucinations, and a sense of dissociation. Using N2O regularly in this way can lead to serious health complications and addiction.

Recreational use of whippets and other toxic substances can be extremely dangerous, and if you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, you are encouraged to promptly seek the help of a healthcare provider or addiction specialist. Guardian Recovery offers comprehensive treatment programs that include a wide variety of evidence-based approaches, including medical detox, behavioral therapy, group support, aftercare planning, and more. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one overcome substance use and achieve lasting recovery.

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How Do Whippets Drugs Affect the Brain & Body?

Nitrous oxide acts as a dissociative anesthetic, which works by interfering with the transmission of brain signals, leading to a state of dissociation from one’s senses and consciousness. (1) The use of N2O induces a sense of detachment from reality and induces feelings of euphoria and relaxation. It can also cause hallucinations, dizziness, and time distortion. Some people may experience a tingling sensation or a mild numbing effect.

Dissociative drugs bind to and block the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor in the brain, which is involved in the transmission of pain signals, learning, memory, and other cognitive functions. (2) NMDA receptors respond to glutamate, an excitatory chemical, and by blocking them, dissociative substances also interfere with glutamate signaling. These effects can alter the brain’s perception of sensory input from environmental signals, resulting in a diminished perception of pain and other sensory information. Disturbances of normal brain signaling can lead to a dissociative state, where individuals feel a sense of detachment or unreality from their environment or have altered perceptions of time and space.

Symptoms & Side Effects of Inhaling Nitrous Oxide

While N2O is legally available for legitimate uses, its recreational use, especially in excessive amounts, can be hazardous. Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from the canister or without proper ventilation can lead to oxygen deprivation, resulting in serious health consequences. Prolonged and excessive use of N2O can also lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause nerve damage and other neurological issues. (3)

The effects of nitrous oxide are relatively short-lived. When inhaled, the onset of effects is rapid, typically within seconds, and peaks sooner after. They typically last several minutes, but their intensity and precise duration can vary among individuals.

Short-Term Effects of Nitrous Oxide Inhalation Include:

  • Euphoria and a sense of well-being.
  • Relaxation.
  • Detachment from reality, including self and surroundings.
  • Propensity for laughter/mild hysteria.
  • Analgesia (pain relief).
  • Feelings of floating or drifting.
  • Hallucinations and visual distortions.

One of the most significant risks associated with N2O use is oxygen deprivation. When inhaled in large amounts, this gas can displace oxygen in the lungs, causing a temporary decrease in oxygen supply to the brain. This can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, and potentially serious health consequences.

Long-Term Effects of Nitrous Oxide Inhalation Include:

  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency—Excessive, chronic use of N2O can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, possibly leading to a vitamin B12 deficiency over time.
  • Nerve Damage—Long-term use, especially when combined with vitamin B12 deficiency, can lead to peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the nerves that transmit signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. This can result in numbness, tingling sensations, weakness in the limbs, and other neurological problems. (4)
  • Cognitive Impairment—There is some evidence to suggest that long-term N2O use may impair cognitive functions such as memory and attention.

Addiction and Mental Health Issues—Continued and excessive use of nitrous oxide can lead to psychological dependence and addiction, as well as mood disturbances such as anxiety and depression.

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What Are the Dangers & Overdose Risks of Whippets Drugs & Inhalants?

The recreational use of whippets and other inhalants carries significant dangers and risks, including the potential for overdose. In addition to oxygen deprivation, there are several other dangers related to N2O use.

Dangers of N2O Use Include:

  • Chemical Toxicity—Prolonged and excessive use of the toxic chemicals in inhalants can cause injury to the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs, as well as neurological damage and other serious health problems.
  • Accidents and Injuries—The use of whippets and inhalants can impair coordination and judgment, increasing the risk of accidents such as falls, burns, etc.
  • Cardiac and Respiratory Effects—Inhalants can cause irregular heart rhythms, an increased heart rate, chest pain, shortness of breath, and damage to the lungs.
  • Asphyxiation and Suffocation—Inhaling from bags or other containers can lead to accidental asphyxiation or suffocation due to blocked airways or complete obstruction, which can be life-threatening.
  • Addiction and Dependence—Whippets and inhalants can be psychologically addictive, leading to cravings and compulsive drug-seeking as individuals struggle to quit or control their use.
  • Interactions with Other Substances—Combining whippets or inhalants with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids, increases the risk of adverse effects and overdose.

Overdose Risks—While relatively rare, overdoses are possible with whippets and inhalants. An overdose can lead to severe respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, seizures, cardiac arrest, and death.

Whippet & Inhalant Drug Use & Addiction in Teens

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2015, 1.8 million people age 12 or older engaged in past-year recreational inhalant use. Of these, approximately 684,000 were adolescents 12 to 17 years of age, and the number of inhalant users gradually decreased with age. The lifetime use of N2O among adolescents was estimated at 112,000. (5)

Moreover, whippet and inhalant use among teenagers is relatively common and can have serious consequences. Inhalants are easily accessible and inexpensive, making them a popular choice for experimentation among young people. Inhalants can be found in common household items or easily purchased in stores, which increases the risk of recreational misuse for any person who obtains them for this purpose.

This risk of experiencing accidents and injuries is greatest for teenagers, who may be more likely to engage in unsafe, impulsive behaviors under the influence of intoxicants. Furthermore, the habit-forming nature of whippets and inhalants can quickly lead to dangerous levels of use and addiction. Other inhalants commonly misused include household items such as aerosol sprays, solvents, and glues.

Slang Terms Teens Commonly Use for N2O Include:

  • Nangs.
  • Chargers.
  • Nitrous.
  • Whip-its.
  • Nos.
  • Laughing gas.
  • Hippy crack.
  • Balloons.
  • Bulbs.

Is the Sale of Products That Utilize Nitrous Oxide Legal for Teens or Minors?

In most countries, the sale of products that use nitrous oxide is legal as long as they are intended for legitimate purposes such as food preparation or medical use. However, many areas, including some U.S. states, have placed restrictions on the sale of N2O products to minors (6) or have laws that also restrict the possession and distribution of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes. These laws often seek to prevent misuse and avert potential dangers associated with its ingestion.

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Whippet drugs and inhalants can be extremely dangerous and lead to serious health consequences, including brain damage, seizures, and even death. Overdose risks are also high with the use of these substances, as they can cause sudden cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. It is vital to seek professional help if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to these or other inhalants.

Reach out to us at Guardian Recovery today for a free assessment and no-obligation health insurance benefits check. Our team of addiction specialists designs personalized treatment plans that address the underlying causes of drug and alcohol use and help individuals achieve long-term recovery. You don’t have to wait to get the help you need—contact us now to start your journey toward sobriety and wellness.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.britannica.com/science/nitrous-oxide (2)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32240970 (3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5349816/ (4)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31679459/ (5)https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3095/ShortReport-3095.html (6)https://www.insider.com/illegal-anyone-under-21-buy-whipped-cream-new-york-2022-8

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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