By Edmund Murphy

Last updated: 11 January 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small

Whippets ("whippits", "whip its", or "nos") are a form of abusing inhalants through "huffing" nitrous oxide from small canisters. Whippets are growing in popularity around the world, especially with teens and young people. The long-term effects of whippets can be dangerous to brain development as well as a range of other side effects.

Key takeaways:

  • Whippets are one of the most commonly abused inhalant drugs among teens and young people in America.
  • Whippet canisters are small and easy to hide.
  • An estimated 12 million users in the US have tried whippets at least once.
  • Whippet drug abuse has been linked to brain damage in young people.
  • Long term effects of whippet use include liver/kidney damage, hypoxia, heart dysfunction, and memory problems

Whippet Drugs: Nos abuse

What are whippets?

Whippets ( also called ‘whippits’, ‘whip its’, or ‘hippy crack’) are a method of abusing the inhalant nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas, has been a popular and widely used inhalant since the 19th century as well as still being used as a light sedative by dentists today.[1] The most common form of nitrous oxide abuse in the 21st century is from small canisters intended for whipped cream chargers, hence the name “whippet”.

Are whippets drugs?

While whippets may not be consumed in the same way as other drugs, nor do they come in a form that most people would class as a 'drug', they are still considered a substance or drug when abused. 

Whippets fall under the drug category called 'inhalants' which are primarily made up of household solvents and aerosols that are breathed into the lungs to provide a euphoric high. As the nitrous oxide in whippets can cause hallucinations and other effects when abused, as well as adverse side effects, they are classed as a substance of abuse. 

Side effects of whippet drug abuse

The short-term effects of whippet abuse include brief but intense feelings of euphoria, relaxation, floating, and mild hallucinations. These side effects are normally very short-lived, often driving users to repeat whippit abuse in high volume.[2] 

Those who abuse whippits risk short and long-term side effects. Initially, the brief euphoria when nitrous oxide is inhaled may be mild. The calming anti-anxiety effect may produce relaxation and the feeling of floating in the individual. Other reported short-term effects of whippits include:

  • Loss of coordination

  • Blurred vision

  • Impaired judgment

  • Giddiness

  • Laughing 

  • Confusion

  • Numbness

  • Dizziness 

  • Sweating

The long-term effects of abusing whippets are potentially far more damaging and even life-threatening. As well as the damaging effects caused by oxygen deprivation, whippets can also cause nerve damage due to a reduction in vitamin B12.[2] The risks of inhalant abuse in whippets are heightened when mixed with certain other drugs or substances. Combining whippets with alcohol for example greatly increases the risk of accidents due to impaired judgment and coordination.

Long-term effects of whippet abuse include:

  • Loss of blood pressure

  • Liver damage

  • Kidney damage

  • Hypoxia

  • Heart dysfunction

  • Memory problems

  • Fainting

  • Numbness

  • Weakened immune system

  • Paranoia

  • Bone marrow damage

  • Apoptosis (dead brain cells/brain damage)

  • Nerve damage from depletion of vitamin B12

  • Limb spasms

Warning signs of whippet use

As the high from inhalants like whippets is short-lived, it is not always easy or obvious to spot the signs of abuse. Like with all forms of substance use disorders however, there are some indicators of abuse to be watchful for, especially if you are concerned about a teenager abusing whippets

  • Sore throat without explanation
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Running nose
  • Red, blurry eyes
  • Appearing drunk
  • Being secretive or removed
  • Whippet paraphernalia (including silver canisters, packets of balloons, cracking machines)

Are whippets addictive?

While many people who abuse inhalants such as whippits do not believe them to be addictive, research into inhalant abuse suggests that this may be false. Inhalants interact with the pleasure and reward system in the brain in much the same way as other substances such as opioids.[3]

Dr. Raffaello Antonino of Therapy Central had this to say:

This means that over time the brain can develop a tolerance to inhalants, meaning more will be required to get the same high. Tolerance will eventually lead to physical dependence if left unchecked, and addiction is often not far behind. Young people are at particular risk of developing a whippet addiction as nitrous oxide cartridges for ice cream machines etc. are relatively easy to get hold of. Whippet abuse is not only hazardous to health but the long-term effects of dependence and addiction can be devastating to a person’s life.

Do whippets have withdrawal symptoms?

Unlike with other forms of substance misuse, abusing whippets does not cause any direct physical withdrawal symptoms when use stops. However, it can cause excessive users to experience cravings for the substance, often needing larger doses of whippets in a single sitting to achieve the same high.

Treatment for whippet drug abuse

inhalant use disorders such as whippet abuse can be treated in both an inpatient and outpatient setting. These rehab facilities offer a safe and temptation-free environment in which addicts can detox from inhalants comfortably.

They also offer a range of therapies designed to manage cravings, identify emotional triggers for substance abuse, and work through any co-occurring mental health issues that may be linked to substance abuse.

If you or someone you know is at risk of developing an inhalant addiction, contact a treatment center today.

Whippets FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about whippets:

How can I tell if someone is abusing whippets?

Whippet abuse can be hard to detect as the high is short-lived and the equipment used to take it can be found in most homes, so spotting the signs of whippet abuse is not always easy.

Who uses whippets?

Despite being a popular recreational drug among different age demographics, there is a growing trend of whippet abuse among young people and those who attend festivals and raves.

Are whippets dangerous?

Nitrous oxide use has grown in popularity over the last 20 years and subsequently, the rates of reported serious health complications from using whippets have gone up, including b12 deficiency and sudden sniffing death.