Last updated: 28 July 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon
The nitrous oxide inside whippet canisters has been abused across the globe for its intense yet short high, yet studies have suggested whippet abuse can carry serious health consequences.
The damage caused by oxygen deprivation from whippets affects the brain and 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.
Studies have shown that long-term exposure to the nitrous oxide found in whippets can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency.
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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. the human brain doesn’t finish developing 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.
What does a whippet high feel like?
The nitrous oxide found in whippet canisters rapidly dissolves into the bloodstream and reaches the brain within a matter of seconds. The effects are felt immediately, with a rush of euphoria, dizziness, laughter, and sound distortion being the main responses.
Sensory hallucinations similar to those felt on MDMA may also occur, including sound and light distortion. More complex hallucinations such as those felt with ketamine or mescaline are extremely rare.
The sedative effects of whippets can also cause a loss of coordination and respiratory depression. This can lead to an elevated heart rate, tingling in the extremities and shortness of breath.
Related: How to spot whippet abuse
How do whippets affect the brain?
As with other inhalants, whippets affect the central nervous system and can cause brain activity to slow down. The short-term effects of whippets on the brain are similar to alcohol intoxication, such as:
slurred or distorted speech
lack of coordination (control of body movement)
euphoria (feeling high)
Dr. Raffaello Antonino of Therapy Central had this to say on the long-term effects of whippet abuse:
Long-term use of inhalants can lead to the brain becoming starved of oxygen, which can cause seizures, stroke, and death. Studies also suggest that heavy use of whippets from a young age can lead to permanent brain damage. Read here to learn more about whippets and young people.
Do whippets cause B12 deficiency?
Studies have shown that long-term exposure to the nitrous oxide found in whippets can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency. Through oxidation, nitrous oxide inactivates vitamin B12. In its inactive form, vitamin B12 is unable to function as a co-factor for methionine synthase and methylmalonyl CoA mutase.
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in maintaining the body’s central nervous system (CNS) and prolonged vitamin abuse can lead to nerve damage from a lack of the vitamin. Symptoms of nerve damage resulting from B12 deficiency include numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes and fatigue in the legs and arms.
It can also lead to other symptoms such as forgetfulness, tiredness, and depression. Treatment with high doses of B12 can help reduce the damage caused by whippets, though in some cases the nerve damage may be permanent.