What to Know About Whippet Use and Recovery
Whippets are canisters of nitrous oxide that are sometimes inhaled as a recreational drug. They may also be referred to as whippets or whip-its. The name whippet comes from a popular brand of the small canisters that are manufactured for charging whipped cream aerosol containers. Historically, both recreational and medical nitrous oxide was referred to as laughing gas.
Whippet use is often viewed as a safe and natural activity. Unfortunately, its benign reputation hides the numerous dangers of inhaling nitrous oxide. These impacts can include permanent neurological impairment, organ damage, and death. Even occasional or infrequent whippet use may lead to negative effects.
Because of whippets’ recent growth in popularity, particularly among teenagers, it’s important to understand what these substances are and how they impact bodies and brains. The good news is that whippet use and addiction are very responsive to treatment. Recognizing the dangers and signs of whippet abuse in your loved ones or in yourself can help you seek intervention before there are permanent consequences.
The History of Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide was discovered by Joseph Priestley in the 1770s. Over the following centuries, scientists continued to explore its usefulness as an anesthetic and to slowly discover its psychotropic properties as well as its undesirable effects. Nitrous oxide was considered a safe recreational drug throughout the 19th century and was often used in group settings and at parties. As both the medical usefulness and the potential dangers of the gas became known, nitrous oxide became legally restricted to medical settings.
Today, nitrous oxide continues to be used as a mild anesthetic in medical settings and during dental procedures. The nitrous oxide dispensed in these circumstances is diluted with additional oxygen and closely monitored by health professionals to keep it as safe and effective as possible.
Outside of the medical field, nitrous oxide is sold in tanks for car engines or packaged in the small metal canisters meant to charge aerosol cans. Though it is illegal to use these over-the-counter forms of nitrous oxide for inhalation, there is little regulation to prevent the sale and purchase of the canisters of the gas for recreational use. Because the nitrous oxide that fills these canisters is not for inhaling, it is far higher in concentration and less safe than medical nitrous oxide use.
How Do Whippets Affect the Brain?
Nitrous oxide restricts the amount of oxygen that can reach body tissues and the brain. The gas binds itself to oxygen atoms and effectively prevents the oxygen from being fully available to the body.
There are two notable, damaging impacts on the brain. The first is apoptosis, or the death of brain cells. Apoptosis due to nitrous oxide use is most likely to occur in the parts of the brain connected to memory and learning. Second, the material that covers neurons may sustain damage in an effect known as myeloneuropathy. As this type of damage occurs, critical brain functions may slow down or stop entirely.
Whippets have a reputation for being harmless in comparison to other inhalants that contain toxic chemicals like paint or household cleaners. However, the effects of oxygen starvation build up over time. The habitual use of whippets can cause permanent damage to organs like the heart, kidneys, the liver, lungs, and the brain. A young person who uses whippets on a regular basis may suffer developmental harm or impairment. Whippet use at any age can create lasting problems with memory and mental processing.
Whippets are inhaled by releasing and then breathing the fumes of nitrous oxide in a concentrated way. Some users transfer the gas into a balloon while others may cover their head with a face mask or bag before cracking open the canister. Inhaling the concentrated nitrous oxide in whippets leads to a brief feeling of euphoria and a temporary reduction of anxiety. These highs are very brief, a characteristic that can lead users to inhale whippets repeatedly.
Teenage Use of Whippets
Because they are easy to access and have a reputation for being safe, whippets are often used by teenagers. There are few regulations around the sale of nitrous oxide in whipped cream canisters, meaning that teenagers can legally purchase them at grocery stores, gas stations, or online in most states. Developing teenage brains and bodies may be at higher risk of harm from the oxygen deprivation effects of whippets.
It’s important for parents and teachers to become aware of the potential dangers of whippets. Currently, most drug prevention and school counseling programs do not educate teenagers about whippets. Many physicians are also unaware of the warning signs of nitrous oxide use and may miss early indications that a teen’s symptoms are due to whippets.
Negative Impacts of Whippet Use
The harmless perception of whippets hides a number of severe effects that inhaling nitrous oxide can have on your vital organs, mental functioning, and bodily safety. Most of these risks increase with repeated use, but effects like accidental injury or exploding canisters can occur with even the occasional use of whippets. While the risks of using whippets are sobering, remember that help is available for individuals struggling with whippet use or addiction.
Accidental Injury or Death
The most common cause of physical harm due to whippet use is accidents that occur when the user loses consciousness or physically impairment by oxygen deprivation in their brain. Because whippets can suffocate the brain, it’s not uncommon for users to quickly pass out and sustain a traumatic head injury. Some of these injuries can death or have lifelong effects. Other risks of accidental death or injury linked to whippet use include users falling off of balconies or causing car accidents by driving while under the influence of whippets.
Rarely, whippet use leads to medical emergencies such as heart attacks or seizures. These risks compound when individuals inhale whippets in small spaces, like a car where there is little oxygen. Using a bag to inhale nitrous oxide may also increase these risks and may contribute to suffocation if the user loses consciousness.
Even during proper use, faulty nitrous oxide canisters have been known to explode. These accidents can cause major injury or death. The likelihood of a canister exploding or causing an injury increases when it not handled properly, or according to the manufacturer’s directions.
The repeated use of whippets can eventually lead to irreversible organ damage. Kidney failure, heart attack, and paralysis can all trace back to the frequent use of nitrous oxide. While physicians have found some success in treating damage to organs or the nervous system using vitamin B12, the harm can be fatal or permanent in many cases.
Drug and Alcohol Interactions
Mixing nitrous oxide with other drugs may increase health risks and place additional strain on the heart or heighten blood pressure. If whippets are combined with ketamine, LSD, mushrooms, or cannabis, they may cause severe dissociation. Drinking alcohol while using whippets increases the risks of accidental injury and the potential for loss of consciousness or body control.
While the possibility of whippet addiction is rarely discussed, there is evidence that some individuals become psychologically addicted to the effects of inhaling nitrous oxide. Like other addictions, an addiction to whippets takes a disproportionate amount of a person’s focus and time and may cause damage to relationships, employment, and physical health.
Most individuals who become addicted to whippets have underlying psychological vulnerabilities such as depression or anxiety disorders. While the impacts of nitrous oxide temporarily relieve some of the psychological symptoms of anxiety or depression, the brief duration of the high creates an incentive for repeated use.
If you have concerns about your whippet use, it’s important to take these thoughts seriously and to find help. Rehabilitation programs like the intensive outpatient program (IOP) at Granite Recovery Centers can help clients with whippet addiction find freedom. The IOP utilizes group and individual therapy in combination with education and other individualized services to provide a supportive environment for recovery.
Signs of Whippet Use
Learning to recognize the signs of whippet use can help you identify an issue that your loved one is experiencing before they suffer life-threatening or permanent impacts. If you notice any of these symptoms in your family members or friends, encourage them to seek help. You may also seek help for yourself if you need support in processing what your loved one is going through.
Nitrous Oxide Canisters and Balloons
If you see punctured or full whippet canisters in their room or among their belongings, it may be time to check in. While there are legitimate uses for nitrous oxide, most people are unlikely to have a large supply of canisters or to keep canisters in a location that isn’t close to a rechargeable aerosol container.
Since balloons are a popular way to inhale nitrous oxide, there may be empty balloons in the residence of a person who uses whippets. Balloons that have been used for nitrous oxide inhalation will give off an unusual smell.
Mouth or Throat Injuries
When whippets are inhaled using a whipped cream container, they may cause cold-related injuries and even frostbite around the user’s mouth or in their throat. The presence of unexplained injuries in these areas could point to whippet use. Also, take note of vocal changes as frequent inhalation of nitrous oxide using whipped cream containers may cause damage to the vocal cords.
Sudden Behavior Changes
Keep an eye out for sudden changes in behavior or mood. Though these aren’t always indicative of inhalant use, if you notice them in conjunction with other signs, it’s likely that your loved one may be using whippets.
Recovering from Whippet Use
Ultimately, you can overcome whippet addiction through help from professional detox and recovery programs. Whippet addiction is often linked with co-occurring mood disorders, and the dual diagnosis program at Granite Recovery Centers can provide treatment for both substance use and mental illness. The two conditions can deeply impact each other, and it is often necessary to address the underlying causes of depression or anxiety before you can experience a sustained recovery from whippet addiction.
Dual diagnosis programs employ a range of services, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), trauma therapy, holistic addiction therapy, and 12-step support groups. At Granite Recovery Centers, we personalize your treatment according to your unique story and situation. If you are struggling with whippet addiction, take the first step toward recovery and contact us today.