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.
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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. 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”.
How are whippets used?
The small, silver whippit canisters or cartridges for cream dispensers are opened or “cracked” and the contents filled into a balloon, which is then huffed continuously until a mildly hallucinogenic and euphoric reaction occurs.
The high felt from whippets is usually short-lived, in most cases not lasting longer than a minute, which leads many users to abuse the drug in high amounts over a short period of time.
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.
Who uses whippets?
As whippet canisters are easy to obtain and legal, they have become one of the most abused substances in the world.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported whippets as being the most popular recreational inhalant drug. They estimate that more than 12 million users in the US have tried whip-its at least once.
A popular misconception that has led to the popularity of whippets is that they are safe to use when compared to toxic inhalants like commercial and household products such as gasoline, paint thinner, or aerosols.
This idea is in fact false and abusing whippets can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. One of the largest demographics to use whippets, and those who are most at risk of their effects, are teenagers under 18.
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Are whippets dangerous?
Abusing whippets in high doses can greatly impair coordination, judgment, and muscle control which can lead to potentially fatal accidents. Inhalants like whippets can also cause different reactions in users depending on a variety of factors such as weight, height, age, build, and whether any other drugs have been used in conjunction with whippets. This has led to reported cases of seizures, suffocation, and heart failure. There is also the risk of sudden sniffing death, a condition caused by inhalants whereby the user is asphyxiated and dies due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. The damage caused by oxygen deprivation from whippets also affects other organs such as the kidneys, heart, and liver as well as permanent nerve damage.
Teenagers are at greater risk of permanent damage from oxygen starvation as their brains have not yet fully formed. Human brain development normally doesn’t finish until the early to mid-twenties and abusing inhalants like whippets at a young age greatly increases the risk of long-term mental, behavioral, and physical side effects. If you are concerned about a child abusing substances like inhalants then read our guide on how to talk to children about drugs and alcohol.
Side effects of whippet 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.
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
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. 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
- Heart dysfunction
- Memory problems
- Weakened immune system
- 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.
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 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.