You know that canister of whipped cream in the fridge? Well, that is a health risk—not the whipped cream itself (unless you are watching your calories), of course, but it is the nitrous oxide booster that turns the contents into whipped cream that can cause serious harm to a young person hell bent on experiencing “whip-its.” Whip-its is just another variation of the dangerous inhalant craze among kids and teens, and understanding how they are abusing whip its can arm parents to be on the look out so they can take action.
It isn’t just teens who are in on this bizarre recreational drug experience. Actress Demi Moore was hospitalized at age 50 due to binging on nitrous oxide from industrial grade whipped cream chargers.
In the dental profession where nitrous is commonly used to aid patients during dental procedures, nitrous has been misused for centuries. In fact, dental associations have had to create treatment programs for dentists and hygienists who ended up addicted to the gas. Nitrous oxide abuse is also common among anesthesiologists.
As fringe as the practice of whip-it abuse may seem, more than 12 million Americans have fessed up to trying it, according to statistics reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Abusing nitrous oxide, whether is via a whipped cream canister, a booster, a helium tank, or a balloon, is a silly and potentially deadly, practice.
About Whip-Its and Nitrous Oxide Abuse
The name “whip its” –also whippets—refers to getting high from sucking the nitrous oxide out of whipped cream canisters. The euphoric high and a sense of floating that results is caused by a loss of oxygen to the brain.
The broader use of the term, whip its, refers to any form of nitrous oxide abuse, including inhaling straight from the canisters of nitrous for filling helium balloons or the small nitrous whipped cream chargers used in restaurants. Also called “hippie crack,” “laughing gas,” “ballooning,” “noz,” and “chargers,” whip its are readily available at raves, dance clubs, rock concerts, and parties in balloon form.
Nitrous oxide is a colorless, non-flammable gas that has a sweet scent. It is used as an analgesic during medical procedures, such as dentistry or outpatient surgeries. Because the nitrous oxide canisters are legal to purchase for the legitimate purposes of blowing up balloons for a party, the gas is readily available. Likewise, any dairy case will offer a selection of whipped cream products. The individual abuses them in various ways, including:
- Inhaling the gas rapidly from a canister or charger, sometimes punctured and vapors inhaled through the nose
- Sucking the gas out of a whipped cream canister before shaking the product. The nitrous oxide functions as a propellant to push the whipped cream out of the can
- Sucking the gas from a balloon
- Inhaling the gas with a bag over the head
Just like any other recreational drug of abuse, the more someone uses whip it’s the more likely they will develop a tolerance to the effects. As tolerance builds, someone may go from using one canister to 12 to 40 in a given day. Nitrous is not physically addicting, however, so there are not any withdrawal symptoms. But over time, the substance can cause serious health effects.
Health Dangers of Abusing Whip Its
The “high” experienced by inhaling nitrous oxide is very brief, literally lasting only three minutes. For this reason, individuals desiring to produce a longer last effect will repeat the process of inhaling the vapors multiple times. The high is described as producing sensations of euphoria, lightheadedness, feeling uninhibited, and experiencing hallucinations. However, there are possible adverse effects to abusing nitrous oxide that include dizziness, loss of motor functions, dissociative effects, loss of inhibitions, and loss of consciousness.
Inhaling nitrous is extremely dangerous. An article published in Practical Neurology, “Whippits, nitrous oxide and the dangers of legal highs,” highlights three patient studies. These patients had used either straight nitrous oxide or whipped cream canisters seeking a recreational high, resulting in significant neurological disabilities.
Unlike its use in the medical or dental field where oxygen is added, straight nitrous oxide can cause serious health dangers. These dangers include:
- Accidents due to dizziness and lack of coordination that results
- Hearing loss
- Freeze facial tissue
- Slowed body movement
- Slurred speech
- Brain damage
- Heart damage
- Neurological damage
- Liver damage
- Lung damage
- Limb spasms
- Bone marrow damage
- Spinal cord degeneration
- Hypoxia, deprivation of oxygen to brain and bodily tissues and sometimes fatal
- Vitamin B12 deficiency that can lead to subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord, leaving the user with permanent nerve damage, causing stiff limbs, weakness, tingly hands, and a sense of grogginess
- Cardiac arrest
- Inhaling own vomit leading to death (suffocation)
The condition called Sudden Sniffing Death can occur after just one use of a highly concentrated use of the gas, often with a bag over their head or a mask. This can cause the heart to stop within moments, leading to death.
Inhalant Abuse Facts
The inhalant category of recreational drug abuse is experiencing a new wave of popularity. Using common household products makes the practice on inhalant abuse one that impacts kids and teens primarily. Adolescents seeking high-risk behaviors that are typically fueled by teens on YouTube videos may be drawn in on a dare or simply out of curiosity. Often, these teens are not informed about the dangers that inhalants pose to their health and wellbeing.
Of all the inhalants being abused, the nitrous oxide category is the most popular. Other inhalants of abuse include Dust-Off, Freon, glue, spray paints, gasoline, lighter fluid, vegetable oil sprays, felt-tip marker fluid, paint thinner, butane lighters, and leather cleaner.
Treatment for Nitrous or Whippit Abuse
When someone has acquired a habit of using whippits or nitrous oxide they are placing their health at serious risk. What may seem to be a fairly harmless recreational high can pose devastating health risks, many of them permanent. In some instances, nitrous abuse can even result in death.
Depending on the degree of whip-it abuse, the individual will benefit from either an outpatient or residential addiction treatment program to help them overcome the psychological addiction to this dangerous substance.
Addiction is always related to a need to escape one’s reality, to exchange reality for an altered reality. A treatment programs can guide the person toward understanding what underlying issue or issues may be driving the repeated use of whip its, to discover why they feel the need to escape their personal reality.
Outpatient treatment programs are the most appropriate for someone with a problem with nitrous, unless there are other substance use disorders resulting in a poly-drug addiction. If not, an outpatient program is probably going to provide the appropriate level of care.
During outpatient treatment the individual will participate in a specified number of hours engaging in therapeutic activities. Outpatient rehab allows the individual to remain at home outside of treatment hours, providing the flexibility to continue to attend school or work. Treatment is available in various intensities, depending on the severity of the addiction.
Residential treatment programs are appropriate for those with a more serious whip it addiction, or for individuals who have a poly-drug addiction. A residential program provides housing for an extended stay at the treatment center. There will be round the clock support available, and a full schedule of daily therapeutic activities.
Addiction treatment generally includes the following treatment elements:
Individual therapy. Using evidence-based models, the psychotherapist will assist the individual in making important chances in thought and behavior patterns that have resulted in a persistent addiction cycle.
Group therapy. Group counseling allows others also in treatment to share their personal experiences. Participants learn from each other, as well as form a trust bond that leads to the important peer support piece of treatment.
Family-focused therapy. Family groups help improve the family dynamic, offer effect communication skills, and provide a forum that allows for honest sharing between family members.
Addiction education. Rehabs offer classes to help clients learn more about how substances of abuse can impact their brain functioning and general health. The classes also teach important recovery skills.
Holistic therapies. The mind-body connection is strengthened using adjunctive holistic activities, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, journaling, and art therapy.
The Treatment Specialist Locates High Quality Addiction Treatment Programs
The Treatment Specialist is a resource center for individuals or their loved ones who are in need of addiction or mental health treatment. Abusing Whip its can have devastating long-term effects. The Treatment Specialist’s free service can connect you to the best treatment program for your or your teens unique needs and preferences.
By addressing the tendency toward addictive or compulsive behaviors head on, important changes can be made before there are serious health or emotional consequences. Parents who suspect their teen might be engaging in inhalant abuse or abusing whip its should contact The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.