Nitrous oxide is sometimes called laughing gas because of its euphoric effects. It’s used medically to relieve pain. It’s also used as a preservative and propellant in whipped cream dispensers.
Reusable whipped cream dispensers are recharged with small metal containers filled with nitrous oxide. The containers, also known as chargers, can be purchased online or over the counter, and they’re sometimes misused to get high.
While nitrous oxide is a highly popular inhalant, many people are unaware of the drug’s dangers. Learn 10 important facts about whippits, including common side effects and the drug’s potential for causing addiction.
Whippits is the street name for a nitrous oxide charger. The name is likely related to the charger’s intended purpose — to refill whipped cream dispensers.
Different people and organizations spell the term differently. When referring to nitrous oxide chargers, whippits, whippets and whip-its mean the same thing.
When inhaled, nitrous oxide causes dizziness, pain relief and a floating sensation. It’s commonly used during oral surgery.
When administered by a health professional, nitrous oxide is considered safe. The health provider monitors and controls the dose the patient receives. The risky side effects of the drug aren’t associated with medical doses, according to Columbia University.
Most drugs make people feel high by overwhelming the brain’s pleasure system. But whippits and other inhalants don’t affect the brain’s pleasure system in the same way.
Inhalant abuse deprives the brain of oxygen. This causes a head rush or a floating feeling. Nitrous oxide can cause laughter or dizziness, but it isn’t the same high as that of other common recreational drugs.
High doses of whippits can cause life-threatening effects, including seizure, coma and sudden sniffing death syndrome. The latter condition occurs when the heart stops beating during inhalant abuse.
People who use inhalants have also choked on vomit or experienced accidental injuries while under the influence of the drugs.
In addition to the immediate risks of using whippits, repeated use can cause permanent organ damage. The chemicals in inhalants damage the brain and nervous system. This causes problems related to thinking, moving, seeing and hearing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Long-term effects of inhalants also include damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver.
Addiction to inhalants isn’t common, but it does occur. Addiction is a disease that causes people to abuse drugs despite knowing the negative consequences. Some people rely on whippits for stress relief. Others become addicted to the buzz caused by nitrous oxide.
Nitrous oxide can also cause withdrawal symptoms when a person reduces or stops their use of the drug. Experiencing withdrawal is a sign of dependence.
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Inhaling nitrous oxide directly from a whippit or canister is difficult because the gas exits the container quickly. Nitrous oxide can rush into the lungs, causing significant damage. It can also cause frostbite because the gas gets extremely cold when it leaves a pressurized container.
Filling a balloon with nitrous oxide allows the gas to warm up, and it gives people some control of how quickly it’s released into the mouth. Those reasons explain why huffing and other forms of inhalant use are uncommon with nitrous oxide.
Empty balloons and balloons smelling of strange chemicals are signs of inhalant abuse. Finding devices called crackers is another sign of whippit abuse. Crackers are small metal objects used for opening nitrous oxide canisters. The objects can be purchased legally online, but their only purpose is to open gas canisters.
Inhalant abuse and experimenting with inhalants is more common than many people realize. An estimated 9.1 percent of Americans have tried inhalants during their lifetime, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
About 11.8 million participants in the 2016 survey reported past misuse of nitrous oxide or whippits. That’s nearly double the number of people who reported using the next most common inhalant.
Vitamin B12 is one of the recommended treatments for side effects of whippits because nitrous oxide affects the way the body uses the nutrient. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to nervous system problems.
Treating the side effects of nitrous oxide with vitamin B12 has produced mixed results, according to multiple studies. Some patients experienced improved symptoms, but others saw no benefit.
While nitrous oxide has useful medical applications, abuse of the drug is associated with serious side effects. Some health problems caused by whippits are permanent. Vitamin B12 may treat some types of nerve problems, and substance abuse treatment can help people stop using whippits.
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