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What are Whippets?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 28, 2023

Table of Contents

If you are unfamiliar with whippets, today’s guide explores the potential dangers of substance abuse from this everyday item that’s sometimes used as a recreational drug.

What are Whippets?

Whippets belong to a class of recreational drugs known as inhalants. This group of substances includes aerosol sprays, nitrites, solvents, and gasses.

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Inhalants can be easily purchased and are found in most homes. Household items classified as inhalants include:

  • Cleaning fluids
  • Glues
  • Markers
  • Spray paints

Whippets fall under this category of recreational drugs as they must be inhaled for the effects to be felt. These whippets contain gas that is “huffed” into the mouth, promoting a euphoric high.

The mechanism of action is where whippets differ from most drugs, though. Most other addictive substances induce a high as they overwhelm the pleasure center in your brain. With inhalant abuse, the brain is instead starved of oxygen. This physical reaction triggers light-headedness and a sensation that you are floating.

Whippets are found in chargers used to refill whipped cream dispensers with nitrous oxide.

You might see them called whippets, NOS chargers, whippits, or whippets, but all these names relate to the same nitrous oxide charger.

The high felt from using whippets comes from nitrous oxide, a medically prescribed pain treatment that’s typically safe and often used by dentists and medical professionals to relax and sedate patients during oral surgery. Nitrous oxide is also used in the automobile industry to enhance the performance of car engines. Additionally, nitrous oxide is used as a propellant in canisters of whipped cream.

If used as intended – whether to make dental surgery less painful, to boost the performance of a vehicle, or to bring delight to every kid who gets a mouthful of whipped cream, nitrous oxide doesn’t pose any significant danger.

Unfortunately, people have found a way to misuse nitrous oxide, and whippets are the most easily accessible way to do this.

Small cylinders full of nitrous oxide are intended to refill the whipped cream canisters so that the propellant can force the whipped cream out. When people misuse the nitrous oxide contained in these canisters, this can be hazardous.

Some people inhale the nitrous oxide from the whipped cream canister directly in an effort to achieve a rapid high, while others use tools to open the canister and release the nitrous oxide in order to inhale it in greater volume. One of the most popular ways to use whippets is to use a tool to release the nitrous oxide into a balloon before inhaling the substance contained within the balloon.

Whippets Brain Damage

Using whippets is neither safe nor advisable.

One of the primary dangers associated with whippets can occur before the nitrous oxide enters your body. Nitrous oxide is released from the canister at extremely high pressure. Many people have been injured by releasing the nitrous oxide, and some have even died from this.

Another risk incurred before inhalation is that releasing the nitrous oxide causes the canister to become very cold. This instant temperature change can freeze your lips or fingers. This is another reason why so many people who abuse whippets use balloons as it warms the gas up.

Beyond this, when you inhale nitrous oxide, you deprive your brain of oxygen. If you inhale too much nitrous oxide, you’ll be unable to inhale enough oxygen for your needs. This insufficiency of oxygen can bring about muscle and brain damage.

Brain damage is among the most prevalent and damaging side effects of nitrous oxide or whippets abuse. If you continue to use this substance on an ongoing basis, you can expect to experience depression and memory loss, and possibly even psychosis.

Nitrous oxide abuse also results in poor circulatory function due to depleting levels of vitamin B12 in the body. Over time, inadequate B12 levels can cause other health problems such as:

  • Dysfunction in the reproductive system
  • Muscle spasms
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Paralysis
  • Compromised immune system

A lack of B12 can also result in a dangerous condition known as subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord.

When abusing whippets, some damage is immediate. These adverse effects include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Numbness
  • Sedation
  • Sweating

The misuse of inhalants can also lead to “sudden sniffing death syndrome”. When the concentrated chemicals of inhalant drugs are consumed, they can create an irregular heartbeat capable of bringing about a quick and unexpected death.

Whippets and inhalant drugs can be life-threatening in other ways, too.  When abusing these substances, it’s possible to die from:

  • Choking: Inhalants can induce vomiting, and people sometimes choke on their vomit while high.
  • Coma: When you inhale too much nitrous oxide and the brain is starved of oxygen, it can shut down completely, resulting in coma.
  • Fatal injury: All addictive substances alter your mental state, and the same goes for whippets. When high, you can make poor choices and suffer from fatal accidents or injuries.
  • Seizures: Abusing whippets can result in abnormal brain activity which can lead to convulsions and seizure.
  • Suffocation: When “huffing” the whip-It from a balloon or bag, you might accidentally suffocate yourself, possibly even fatally.
An image of a man breathing in fresh air | Whippets

Do They Kill Brain Cells?

As outlined above, inhaling whippets can cause hypoxia, a condition where the brain and heart are deprived of oxygen.

People have differing responses to hypoxia, and presentation can be acute, chronic, or both. Research shows that some tissues can be severely damaged by oxygen deprivation. As such, inhaling whippets can kill brain cells.

Studies show that chronic abuse of whippets can bring about severe complications in the brain, permanent brain damage, and death.

Are Whippets Addictive?

According to NSDUH 2020 (the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health),  almost 2.4 million over-12s in the United States reported past-year inhalant use. Among these, 134,00 developed an addiction in the form of substance use disorder.

While addiction to inhalants is not especially common, it can occur for a variety of reasons. Some people use whippets to relieve stress, while others continually seek the rewarding high and floating sensation induced by inhaling nitrous oxide.

If you develop an addiction to whippets, you could experience withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly discontinue use. Withdrawal symptoms are a diagnostic criterion for addiction and indicative that you are physically and psychologically dependent on whippets.

Fortunately, like all addictive substances, whippet abuse can be effectively treated with research-backed interventions like psychotherapy and counseling. We can help you find the right treatment facility for your needs at Drug Rehab Centers.

Get Drug Abuse Help Today

Here at Renaissance Recovery, we can connect you with a variety of services to help you reclaim your life from addiction to inhalants or any other substance of abuse.

Many people withdrawing from substance abuse find that a supervised medical detox provides the safest and most comfortable pathway to detox. We can help you find a licensed medical detox in Southern California to kickstart your recovery.

Following detoxification – this usually takes about a week – you can engage with ongoing treatment at a suitable level of intensity. We can help you find:

Engage with a combination of evidence-based interventions and holistic rehab to build a strong foundation for ongoing abstinence.Addiction is a progressive and relapsing brain condition that is liable to worsen without professional treatment. Call 833-330-9449 today for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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