Inhaling nitrous oxide gas from balloons or whipped cream chargers may seem like harmless fun, but it can also become a dangerous habit. Although nitrous oxide isn’t exactly heroin, misusing it comes with serious risks and can open doors to more serious substance abuse problems down the road.
Table of contents
- What Are Whippits?
- What Are Other Street Names or Slang Terms for Whippits?
- How Long Does a Nitrous Oxide High Last?
- What Are the Dangerous Side Effects of Whippits?
- Are Whippits Addictive?
- Can Whippits Kill You?
- What Are the Signs of Whippit Abuse?
- Is Nitrous Detectable in Urine?
- What Are Common Whippit Withdrawal Symptoms?
- Do I Need to Complete a Whippit Detox Program?
- How Can I Get Treatment for Whippit Addiction?
What Are Whippits?
Whippits (also sometimes spelled whippets or whip-its) refers to nitrous oxide that is used as a recreational drug.
Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas that is commonly used by dentists and medical professionals for sedation and pain relief. It is also used as a food additive (such as for whipped cream) and it’s used in the automotive industry to enhance engine performance.
Nitrous oxide is classified as a dissociative anesthetic. It can produce a floating sensation and euphoria, or distort a person’s perceptions. Sometimes, in very rare cases, it can also produce hallucinations.
Many people also misuse nitrous oxide, or whippits, recreationally to get high. In fact, whippits are the most commonly abused inhalants because they’re easy to get and they produce a fast and easy high.
Typically, people who abuse whippits inhale the gas directly from a pressurized canister or balloons. This produces a short high that is characterized by feelings of euphoria, weightlessness, excitement, and sometimes hallucinations.
What Are Other Street Names or Slang Terms for Whippits?
- Buzz bomb
- Hippy crack
- Laughing gas
How Long Does a Nitrous Oxide High Last?
Generally, a nitrous oxide high can be felt almost immediately and will last a few minutes.1 However, the way a nitrous oxide high feels and how long it lasts varies from person to person depending on:
- How much a person inhales
- The size, weight, and overall health of a person
- Whether the person is accustomed to inhaling nitrous oxide
- Whether the person took any other drugs
One person’s reaction to whippet abuse may be more or less severe than another person’s, which can be dangerous, especially if a person decides to abuse nitrous oxide for the first time while they are alone.
Additionally, the high produced by whippit abuse isn’t the same as the high produced by other addictive drugs. Other addictive drugs affect the brain’s pleasure center, but whippits deprive the brain and body of oxygen, which produces feelings of floating, euphoria, and excitement for a very brief time.
What Are the Dangerous Side Effects of Whippits?
Although whippits can cause very serious and even life-threatening side effects, very few people are aware of the risks. To make matters worse, the most serious side effects aren’t necessarily reserved for chronic whippit abusers. Whippets can be deadly the first time they are used, so the euphoric high is simply not worth the risk.
If someone inhales too much nitrous oxide or inhales it too quickly, they are more likely to experience some negative short-term side effects. These potential immediate side effects of whippet abuse include:2,3
- Excessive sweating
- Distorted hearing
- Loss of consciousness
- Frostbite to the nose, lips, and throat
- Sudden sniffing death syndrome
- Suffocation (If a person is using a mask to inhale nitrous oxide and they pass out, they won’t be able to take off the mask. The lack of oxygen can cause suffocation.)
Potential long-term side effects of whippet abuse include:2,3,4
- Memory loss
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears
- Numbness in the hands or feet
- Limb spasms
- Weakened immune system
- Mobility problems
- Impaired vision and hearing
- Brain and nerve damage (due to severe Vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Damage to other organs including the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys (due to oxygen deprivation)
- Subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord (a condition that causes permanently stiff limbs, weakness, grogginess, and tingly hands)
- Psychiatric problems or psychosis
- Psychological dependence
Another major risk of abusing whippits is mistakenly inhaling poisonous gases. Some trick balloons are filled with toxic gases like butane or pentane. These kinds of solvents can cause a heart attack or death if they are inhaled.
Are Whippits Addictive?
Yes, some people may develop a psychological dependence and addiction to whippits after misusing them.
In these instances, a person may feel an uncontrollable urge or compulsion to abuse whippits. Most often, this is because the person likes the way the high feels, it helps them deal with stress, or they just want to forget their problems. Sometimes, people also mix whippits with alcohol or other drugs, which can produce serious side effects or contribute to the development of substance use disorders.
Although teens and young adults are the most likely individuals to develop a whippit addiction, adults who work around large quantities of nitrous oxide are also particularly vulnerable to it. Examples include dentists, doctors, or food service workers.
Can Whippits Kill You?
Yes, whippits can kill you. Even if you don’t abuse nitrous oxide regularly, a single use of the drug can be deadly. Using whippits may unintentionally cause death in the following ways:
- Suffocation due to lack of airflow
- Asphyxiation due to chemical vapors in the lungs
- Physical injuries caused by mobility issues while under the influence
What Are the Signs of Whippit Abuse?
Maybe you’re concerned that your child, another family member, or a close friend is abusing whippits. It’s not always easy to distinguish drug abuse, but if you observe your loved one closely, you may notice some odd behavior or certain signs of whippit abuse.
The most common signs of whippit abuse include:
- Discarded metal canisters
- Empty balloons
- Strange-smelling balloons
- Canister crackers (small tubes that are used to open whippit canisters)
Is Nitrous Detectable in Urine?
Yes, if someone were to use special testing techniques, nitrous oxide could be detected in urine or blood shortly after exposure.5 However, nitrous oxide is not detected in the results of routine drug screening panels.
That means, if you have to take a drug test for a potential employer or school, nitrous oxide would not be detectable unless they were specifically testing for it.
What Are Common Whippit Withdrawal Symptoms?
There is an ongoing debate about whether inhalants like whippits cause withdrawal symptoms.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize any official diagnosis of inhalant withdrawal in the most recent version of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) because inhalant withdrawal symptoms were deemed too mild and inconsistent.
However, many inhalant withdrawal symptoms have been reported and detailed in studies. For example, commonly reported whippet withdrawal symptoms include:6,7
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Problems sleeping
- Poor attention and concentration
- Mood swings
- Runny nose or eyes
- Fast heartbeat
If a person experiences whippit withdrawal symptoms and how they persist will vary depending on their drug abuse history and their overall health. However, one study found that whippit withdrawal symptoms start soon after the last use and can persist up to seven days.6
Do I Need to Complete a Whippit Detox Program?
Although the whippit withdrawal symptoms listed above may not seem very serious, people who are withdrawing from whippit addiction may experience mental health problems like severe depression, anxiety, and hallucinations that could have seriously harmful outcomes if they are left untreated.
If you or a loved one is suffering from whippit addiction and you experience severe withdrawal symptoms every time you try to stop using nitrous oxide, you may benefit from a medically-supervised drug detox program.
During a whippit detox program, patients receive round-the-clock medical care to ensure that their vitals remain normal and that they are not experiencing any severe discomfort. Clinical professionals also provide treatment to help clients deal with the psychological aspects of whippit withdrawal, such as severe cravings or anxiety.
Clients who complete inpatient whippit detox programs are also served healthy and delicious meals during their stay. This helps to replenish their bodies with essential vitamins and minerals that were depleted by chronic inhalant abuse. A healthy diet during detox also helps rebalance hormones, which translates to more stable moods and behavior.
After completing a whippit detox program, clients can get trusted referrals from their provider. Depending on the severity of the person’s whippit addiction and their financial ability, the detox treatment provider may recommend residential rehab or an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for best results.
How Can I Get Treatment for Whippit Addiction?
Often, the act of abusing nitrous oxide is a sign of a larger issue. As such, recovery from whippit addiction and abuse is a process that may require behavioral therapy in individual and group settings.
- A residential whippit rehab program that lasts for several months can provide adequate time to overcome whippit addiction and implement new skills and ways of living. An inpatient whippit rehab program also provides on-site living arrangements and 24/7 staffing to ensure clients’ physical and psychological safety as well as to provide the highest levels of structure and support possible during treatment.
- An intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides a more flexible whippit treatment program that allows clients to live at home or in a sober living house while they attend treatment for a set number of hours each day or each week. Online IOP is also available for those who need it or prefer it.
In addition to receiving whippit treatment services through a drug detox and rehab provider, studies show Vitamin B12 supplementation can also treat various complications of whippit abuse, such as:8
- Numbness and tingling
- Balance problems
- Memory problems
- Mood swings
If you’re worried about the potential costs of detox or rehab for whippit addiction, many programs may be covered by your health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, alternative payment options for whippit treatment programs are typically available, including:
- Financed healthcare loans
- Private scholarships
- Grants from nonprofit organizations
- Financial gifts or personal loans from family members
- Healthcare credit cards
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits
- HSA funds
Whippit addiction can cause serious and life-threatening problems. If you’re ready to get sober and start fresh, call Briarwood Detox Center at (888) 857-0557 to learn more about our medically-assisted detox programs.