Twitter Question: Are “whippits” safe?

Twitter Question: Are “whippits” safe?

I was asked yesterday via Twitter: “Noticed a lot of people doing whippits (nitrous) at Frenchmen Street Halloween last night. Is that safe?”

To put into context for the non-New Orleanian readers, Frenchmen Street Halloween in New Orleans is huge. Think crazy and crowded Mardi Gras with a Halloween twist where both locals and tourists fill the streets. The fact that whippits were noticeably and openly being used at this Halloween hot spot indicates the popularity of the drug.

“Whippits” are actually an inhalant drug consisting of nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as laughing gas. It is the same anesthetic agent that is used in many dental practices for minor oral surgery and dental work to relieve anxiety and pain. When used in the dentist’s office, the drug is strictly monitored while recreational users are usually inhaling the drug at much higher dosages.

Recreational users usually fill a balloon with nitrous oxide and then inhale the gas straight from the balloon in order to get a high. Interestingly, the reason the drug is called a “whippit” is because small nitrous oxide gas cartridges can be found inside food preparation cans such as whipped cream. Users can simply order the individual cartridges online, place the cartridge in a device called a “cracker” (often sold with the cartridges), and place a balloon on the other end of the cracker in order to fill the balloon with the gas. Alternatively, large nitrous oxide gas tanks can also be used to fill balloons or people sometimes take the drug straight from the whipped cream can.

Inhaling the nitrous oxide from the balloon can cause a high within a few seconds, causing dizziness, a floating sensation, giddiness, disorientation, and occasionally visual hallucinations. The effect of the drug is very temporary with the high usually lasting two to three minutes. However, users often take several hits of nitrous oxide balloons in order to prolong their high for hours. With each inhalation, users feel more and more out of control and unconsciousness often results. Unconsciousness from the drug, or any drug for that matter, is a medical emergency and the person should be brought to the emergency department immediately.

Although the high may be fleeting, there is a risk of death associated with the drug. At high doses, nitrous oxide can replace oxygen in the bloodstream depressing the central nervous system and halting breathing. Since the drug is often used repetitively, it is important to realize that long-term abuse can permanently damage the central nervous system and nerve fibers. Long term users often suffer from a neuropathy, including a loss of balance and dexterity, weakness, numbness, and tingling in their extremities.

Also, nitrous oxide straight from a pressurized tank is actually very cold, which is why people usually take hits from balloons. When the drug is taken straight from a tank, the gas can cause frostbite of the nose, lips, and possibly the vocal cords.

To make a long story short, is it safe? Absolutely not.

If you want more info, check out this video from If you can get past the one minute advertisement at the beginning, it’s actually pretty good!

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