Drug and Alcohol

What Are Whippets?

What are whippets? Nitrous oxide can seem harmful, but when used outside of a medical environment, nitrous oxide abuse can be dangerous. Learn why.

What Are Whippets?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 30, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

So, what are whippets?

Most people realize that there are more addictive substances making their way to the street and it seems like more people are ready to explore drugs for recreational use. While some of these substances don’t pose an immediate threat, some are outright lethal, and many others are illegal.

Some addictive substances, like alcohol, are even legal. Whippets, named after "Whip-Its," a brand of nitrous oxide cartridges used by chefs and others, are a relatively easy-to-obtain form of nitrous oxide that's often abused, especially by teens. Inhalant abuse is a serious and often very deadly form of substance abuse.

By the Numbers:

A study by the National Library of Medicine shows the results of the Global Drug Survey (GDS) conducted in 2014. This survey showed that nitrous oxide [N2O] was found to be a frequently used drug in both the UK and the US, with lifetime prevalence rates of 38.6% and 29.4%, respectively.

Whippets: Getting Familiar with Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is not as dangerous as other habit-forming and addictive substances. That's not to say it's safe, however. While other prescription painkillers and opioids are associated with creating a serious dependence, not many people know about the risks of using nitrous oxide.

For most, it is a colorless substance that has been used as part of prescription medicine for managing chronic conditions where the management of pain is a big problem. Lately, nitrous oxide has started engaging attention for the wrong reasons, such as being inhaled to get high. Still, as compared to the more infamous opioids like fentanyl, not many people seem to know about the addiction-related challenges associated with nitrous oxide. The fact is that long-term abuse of nitrous oxide can bring about some psychological and physical problems.

Nitrous Oxide and Its Pain-Relieving Addictive Effects

The reason whippets are being explored as a recreational drug is very similar to why most pain-relieving medications are abused. The most expected feelings with nitrous oxide include feeling euphoric and relaxed. While this is necessary for people with chronically painful conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or those recovering from a serious injury, using nitrous oxide beyond the prescribed dosage can cause dissociative effects.

It can also make the person addicted to the substance as the relaxing high needs to be experienced repeatedly to feel normal. Someone who is addicted to pain-relieving opioids like hydrocodone or oxycodone might supplement the daily high with nitrous oxide or vice-versa. The more long-term users of such opioids might even use nitrous oxide as a means to boost the high.

How Does Nitrous Oxide Work?

In short, nitrous oxide's mechanism isn't understood. It's known that nitrous oxide has effects on every sensation -- touch, pain, and hearing. It also seems to have an effect on the brain's emotional areas. Some researchers think nitrous oxide works due to oxygen deprivation, which is why abusing whippets can be very dangerous.

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What Are Whippets/Whippits?

Drug slang continues to evolve just as more drugs are brought to the illegal marketplace. While nobody is sure about when the word “whippits” started to be associated with nitrous oxide, it is now a trending slang that refers to nitrous oxide, but whippits actually refer to nitrous oxide when the substance is inhaled.

This is expected since nitrous oxide is a part of pressured spray cans. Many types of culinary items, including whipped cream, are packed into such dispensers. Keeping the context of substance abuse a lot closer, it is worth highlighting that whipped cream cans, or any cans for that matter where the ingredients are packed with nitrous oxide, cannot be subjected to more control or limited from use. As a part of the package can’s ingredients, nitrous oxide does not qualify as a controlled substance or a substance with a threat of addiction.

What Is the History of Nitrous Oxide as an Abused Substance?

While Whippits might sound like a bit of a new addiction-related challenge to parents and guardians, the abuse of nitrous oxide is not new. The substance was discovered centuries ago and its pain-alleviating and relaxing properties have been well-documented over the decades. It has also been inhaled for recreational purposes for a long time. However, in the past, access to nitrous oxide wasn’t that easy.

It was considered a substance that the more elite folks with the money to spend could afford at parties. It seems like there was a nexus at some point that made the medical professionals bring in nitrous oxide illegally to people who were ready to pay the price for it. For some people, the pain-numbing qualities of nitrous oxide were hard to ignore. While the substance became a more accepted part of medical practices, it also started to be abused more as a recreational drug.

To this day, the trend continues but somewhere down the line, nitrous oxide emerged as a substance of abuse in a new form, as culinary use, pressured canisters…as Whippits.

Why Nitrous Oxide Is Unlike some Pain-Relieving Opioids

Despite sharing some traits with pain-relieving, habit-forming substances, nitrous oxide is somewhat unique since it has a larger scope of legitimate use. Another setting where nitrous oxide finds usage is in dental clinics. Nitrous oxide is used for sedating patients. In a health care setting, nitrous oxide gets the job done, helping patients relax and not feel the discomfort that is associated with routine dental procedures or the more complex dental care methods.

Also, for many people who are afraid of visiting the dentist and might not be able to sit through a session with the dentist, the use of nitrous oxide is helpful as it helps to alleviate the anxiety that comes with being seated at the dentist’s chair. All such information points towards nitrous oxide being rather handy, a substance that can temporarily impair the symptoms of anxiety, helping people relax. Unlike any other addictive pain medication, nitrous oxide has an industrial use too. It is used in some specific automotive environments, as a part of engine tuning in selected vehicles.

This is why banning nitrous oxide or turning it into a highly controlled substance out of the reach of young kids is difficult whereas pain-relieving opioids are being increasingly relooked at to limit access to such substances despite being prescribed a lot. 

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Who Is More Likely to Abuse Nitrous Oxide?

Whippets are targeted by teenagers and the younger population that might find it harder to get their hands on other drugs that come at a higher price and are not as easily available. Since whippets are abused inhalants, they come without the need to carry drug-using gear such as injections. Doing whippets refers to inhaling the nitrous oxide directly from the canisters.

Finding these canisters are home or the neighborhood mall is not difficult. Sometimes, the can has to be heated a bit to ensure that nitrous oxide comes up easily as an inhalant. Since nitrous oxide is inhaled as a whippet, it does not take a lot of time to start showing an effect. This substance has a reputation for quickly spreading through the system—the same reason nitrous oxide works so well in the dentist’s clinic.

For kids who are seeking a quick high and don’t have a lot of money to spend on procuring party drugs, Whippits present an interesting option as they are easily available but kids might not realize that an overdose of whippits is also more likely. This is because the inhaled amount cannot be controlled. As the inhaled substance works its way through the body, it tends to affect how oxygen is circulated, affecting the brain.

What Are the Typical Side Effects & Signs of Using Whippits?

The immediate effects of using whippets are often referred to as someone acting silly. The person might start laughing for no reason. This is perhaps the most talked about the effect of nitrous oxide—the reason it is often called laughing gas also.

However, what seems like silly laughter or giggling is in fact suggestive of something more serious happening. While the tendency to laugh after inhaling a bit of nitrous oxide happens at the dentist’s office also, it is the result of the gradual reduction of oxygen to the brain. The laughing or the slow reduction in the person’s judgment capabilities, and hence, acting silly, is the result of the brain not functioning at its full capacity.

The other side to this effect of whippits is that school-going kids who are looking for a recreational high, find whippits easy to use and the effect, just the type of fun they are looking for without the need to steal prescription meds or inject street drugs.

The use of whippits can happen for a relatively long time as the high is not intense as that of using marijuana or hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, and the effect wears out quickly. It could be very hard for parents or guardians to notice someone in the family who has just started using Whippets.

More About the Effects of Whippets 

The high caused by nitrous oxide has a short life, and the person needs to use it repeatedly to maintain the high. This makes whippets rather dangerous for someone who wants to maintain a relaxed state of mind for a longer duration. However, as the person uses more of the substance, there is every chance of developing lightheadedness and dizziness.

After using it a few times, the person is likely to develop slurred speech and might not be able to walk or talk properly. The loss of coordination can worsen and the person can feel drowsy and nauseous. Just because whippets are not injected, vaped, or administered orally, younger people tend to assume that the high of this substance is harmless and there is no serious side-effect of using nitrous oxide repeatedly.

But, just like drugs with strong hallucinogenic or sedative properties can be addictive, whippets can get a person hooked on to the substance for good. Most people don’t realize the threat of addiction that comes with using whippets repeatedly. The most obvious signs of someone using Whippets can be a poor performance at school or college. The person is likely to shy away from social interactions and might have trouble concentrating.

Whippets carry the potential of causing long-term damage. The person might develop a bit of psychosis or might start hallucinating. The hallucination might not last for a long period but there can be moments of being detached from reality. The feeling might be soon followed by brain fogging that could come up sporadically. The worst-case scenarios associated with the addictive use of nitrous oxide include slipping into a coma. 

If someone has been using whippets for a long time, there is a higher chance of developing symptoms like:

  • Decreased concentration

  • Slurred speech

  • Behavioral changes

  • Early signs of liver damage

  • Feeling the blues, depression

  • Lowered blood pressure

  • Ringing-like sensation in the ears

  • Decreased hearing

  • Heavy breathing

  • Developing deficiency of Vitamin B12 

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More Dangers Associated with a Whippet Addiction

Someone using whippets is very likely to try different combinations, raising the chances of multiple drug abuse or mixing up different drugs, ranging from alcohol and nicotine, with Whippets. This can boost the hallucinogenic effect of whippets and the person might lose consciousness for hours. The drug cocktail or the mixing of different substances, including whippets, means a bigger chance of an unpredicted outcome.

Anybody who feels that this is an exaggeration should realize that pregnant women are told not to inhale nitrous oxide because this could be potentially harmful to the fetus and can even cause birth defects. Some more signs of a developing whippet addiction include:

  • Bad breath

  • More recall 

  • Skin rashes

  • A sore throat that does not seem to heal

  • Unexplained bouts of drowsiness 

  • Feeling that concentrating is impossible without using Whippets

  • Staying away from the usual circle of friends

Whippet Abuse Is Inhalant Abuse. Get Treated at the Edge Treatment Center

It is wrong to assume that Whippets don’t present a serious addiction or that it is something that only kids do. Symptoms of whippet addiction often begin with complaints of feeling weak and often losing balance but quickly this can spiral out of control, giving way to numbness of the head or the limbs.

Whippet addiction problems might start as sudden and repeated mood changes but quickly, this could mature into more serious issues like paranoia-like episodes or sudden emotional outbursts. Whippets are often used by people who temporarily cannot get their preferred drug. Also, a Whippet addiction is often the stepping stone to a more serious addiction in the making.

The Edge Treatment Center provides expert, evidence-based care for inhalant abuse. If you're worried about the results of whippet abuse and need help leaving behind, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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