Whip It Drug: Nitrous Oxide Whippits Abuse

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Whippits are small canisters of nitrous oxide that are used as a recreational drug. This easily accessible inhalant is widespread among adolescents and young adults. However, addiction to whip its is not limited to youngsters alone. According to the Surgeon General’s Report, abuse of this drug is prevalent in more than 12 million Americans.
Why do so many people become addicted to whipits? How does a whippit high feel? And why is nitrous oxide safe for medical use but dangerous when abused as a recreational drug? Read on to learn more about whippits drug abuse, side effects, overdose, and addiction treatment.

What Are Whip Its?

Nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, is often abused recreationally in the form of whip-its. These are small metal canisters of the gas that are intended to be used as aerosol chargers for whipped cream dispensers. However, they are frequently misused because of the quick euphoric effects they produce when inhaled deeply from a whip it balloon. On the streets, the drug has many colorful names, including nangs, hippie crack, nos, nox, and whippet.

History of Whip Its Drug

Human beings have abused addictive inhalants for centuries. The use of nitrous oxide as an intoxicant can be traced back to the early 1800s. The gas was discovered in 1793 by a scientist called Joseph Priestley.

Nitrous oxide began to be used as an anesthetic in dentistry around 1840. Until the late 1970s, misuse of this substance was limited to medical professionals. In more modern times, nitrous oxide whip-it drug has gained popularity as a substance of abuse, mainly among young adults.

Structure of Nitrous Oxide

It is a colorless, non-flammable, sweet-tasting gas that is non-toxic at low concentrations. It occurs naturally and can be manufactured in the laboratory as well. It is a frequently used gaseous anesthetic. The primary commercial use of this gas is as a propellant in aerosol sprays. This is often abused as whippit drug.

Drug Classification

The DEA scheduling status for nitrous oxide in the United States is an unscheduled drug, illegal for recreational use.

Whip It Drug Mechanism of Action

The ready availability of whip it balloons in nightclubs, and the low cost of the drug has led to increasing addiction to this substance. What does nitrous oxide do the body? How does it produce the euphoric effect that addicts crave?

It is believed that the analgesic (pain-relieving) effect of nitrous oxide is mediated through opioid receptors in the brain. In fact, 30 percent N2O is believed to be as effect as 10-15 mg of morphine. The connection between nitrous oxide and opioid analgesic drugs has been strengthened by experiments in laboratory animals where animals who are tolerant to morphine are cross-tolerant to N2O.

Dentists routinely use low concentrations of N2O to produce moderate sedation before dental surgery in anxious patients. People who abuse whippit may become addicted to the drug because of the feeling of well-being that it provides. Scientists believe that the anxiolytic effect of nitrous oxide is associated with benzodiazepine mechanisms in the brain. This is mediated through stimulation of GABA receptors.

Perhaps the best-known use of nitrous oxide in medical history is its use as an anesthetic. The mechanism of action is believed to be a nonspecific effect on the fluidity of neuronal membranes and NDMA ion channels. The belief that inhalants such as whipit cause a head rush or floaty feeling by depriving the brain of oxygen is a misconception. It is unlikely that an anesthetic that is so commonly used in hospitals would produce a dangerous effect like starving the brain of oxygen.

balloon and whippet canister

Nitrous Oxide Whip It Usage

Approved Medical Use

Whippit nitrous is used in clinical medicine and dentistry in many different scenarios, including:

  • For general anesthesia in adults in combination with more potent anesthetics
  • For mask induction of general anesthesia in pediatric patients in combination with oxygen
  • Through nasal mask to reduce anxiety, decrease pain, and induce relaxation during dental procedures

Less common uses of N2O are to manage obstetrical labor pain, during emergency medical care and ambulance transport of accident victims, and for procedures such as colonoscopy, laser, and joint injections. It is also used for chronic pain relief in cancer patients.

Recreational Use

Doing whip its is a popular method of getting high because it is convenient, inexpensive, and relatively safe. The canisters pack a considerable euphoric punch, even though the effect is short-lived, for about 30 seconds or so. N2O abusers typically employ the following methods for inhalation:

  • Obtain canisters of the gas and release the contents into an empty whipped cream dispenser. A cracker or pressure release valve is used to siphon the N2O into the dispenser. The gas is then inhaled deeply into the lungs and held there for 20-60 seconds to produce the euphoria. This is what is called a whippit.
  • Use a cracker to open a canister of the gas, release it into a large balloon, and then inhale the contents of the balloon.
  • Obtain N2O “on tap” directly from the canister by using a cracker to inhale the escaping gas. This can be extremely dangerous because the whip its gas is extremely cold when it is released and can cause frostbite of the lips, mouth, and throat.
  • Source a large tank of the gas from food-related enterprises and inhale it by attaching to an anesthesia mask or nasal hood similar to the ones used by dentists. This method of use is especially dangerous as it can expose the user to large amounts of the gas.
  • Try to re-use the whipit drug and save money by exhaling into a balloon or bag for re-inhalation.

However, it is still effortless to legally obtain N2O canisters, whipped cream dispensers, and other devices needed to abuse whipits.

Buying Whip It Balloons

It is incredibly easy to obtain whip it chargers. These are steel cylinders or cartridges that contain nitrous oxide as a whipping agent for whipped cream dispensers. They are available virtually everywhere, in shops as well as online. A 50-pack of chargers costs under $32 on popular sites like Amazon. Therefore, each charger which contains 8 grams of medical-grade nitrous oxide costs less than $2, making whip-its extremely affordable. Pressure valve sticks are also readily available, and of course, latex party balloons are cheap and omnipresent. Dispensers are slightly steeper in price, but they allow the user to inhale the nitrous oxide “on tap” so to speak.

nitrous oxide bulbs

Side Effects of Doing Whip Its

Abusing whippit drug can lead to several serious complications. Some of the common symptoms and side effects of nitrous oxide abuse include:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor balance
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Unresponsiveness to pain
  • Unconsciousness

In addition to the above-mentioned immediate and relatively short-term effects, repeated use of whip-its drug can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, bone marrow depression, and peripheral neuropathy (tingling in the tips of the fingers and toes). In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists permanent liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, nerve damage, and developmental delay as some of the long-term health effects of inhalant abuse.

Getting High On Whippit Nitrous

Usage and Dose

People get high on whip its by either inhaling the gas from a whipped cream dispenser or latex balloon.

A cracker is a small metallic device that is used to release the gas from the charger and transfer it to the whip it balloon. Regulated tank systems that can dispense much larger doses are available for commercial use in restaurant kitchens. Regular abusers can go through dozens of 8-oz cartridges in a single session.

Combination with Other Drugs

Alcohol increases the psychomotor impairment caused by nitrous oxide in a dose-dependent manner. Studies show that alcoholics, even when not under the influence of alcohol, require more anesthetic to go under, indicating a cross-tolerance between the two.

Interestingly, though, a combination of oral opioids and inhaled nitrous oxide/oxygen mixture in a monitored medical setting was found to be safe and effective for analgesia in children undergoing painful procedures for skin burns.

Whip Its Drug High Feeling

What does a whippit high feel like? Users describe it as a feeling of dissociation, forgetting who or where one is, and reality freezing. Some people experience a hallucinatory ripple effect where a movement is repeated in slow motion over and over. Others say it feels like water spinning down a drain. Still, others describe feeling one with the universe or experiencing deep thinking. In some people, the drug causes a loss of inhibitions and a burst of energy. Although the rush from a whip-it is intense, most users complain that it is extremely short-lived, lasting under 30 seconds. The experience is enhanced when a person is very drunk or extremely high on substances like marijuana.

water vortex

Recognizing Whip-It Drug Overdose

Nitrous oxide is safe when it is used in a controlled medically setting. The doses used in a dentist’s office are several times smaller than anything that can cause complications. However, when people abuse whip it balloons for recreational use, there is a risk of overdose.

Signs and Symptoms of Whippet Overdose

Some of the inhalants use symptoms of long-term exposure or large-dose exposure to N2O include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Wheezing, coughing, and breathing difficulty
  • Feeling of tightness or choking in the chest
  • Headache, lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Bluish discoloration of the lips, fingers, and toes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or psychosis
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death

What to do if someone overdoses on whippits?

Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do if a friend or family member exhibits the symptoms mentioned above and you suspect nitrous oxide overdose:

  1. Stop further exposure to N2O immediately.
  2. Call 911.
  3. Ensure that the person’s airway is open, breathing is adequate, and a pulse is present.
  4. If the person is not breathing normally, perform CPR (if trained to do so) to assist ventilation until EMS arrives.
  5. Move or carry the person to a well-ventilated area.
  6. While waiting for help to arrive, have the person sit or lie down to avoid the risk of fall and injury.

Risk Groups of Abusing Whip-Its

A demographic group that is at high risk of nitrous oxide abuse consists of students and young adults who use it as a party drug. Along with other inhalant abuse such as gasoline sniffing, it is popular among young people because it is widely available, easy to use, easy to conceal, and relatively inexpensive. The prevalence of whipits use was demonstrated by a 2015 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) where more than 1 million teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to using a nitrous oxide whippit at least once in their lifetime.

Another group that is likely to abuse N2O are people with a history of drug abuse. Such individuals are always looking for new ways to get high. Again, availability and cost are factors that aid abuse.

Whip-Its Drug Addiction: Symptoms and Effects

Physical addiction from abuse of whip-its is rare.

Users do not become tolerant to the drug where they need higher doses to obtain the same effects.

Whereas physical addiction to nitrous oxide is rare, psychological dependence on the drug is quite common. Some people rely on doing whip its for stress relief. The drug is not required for the body to function normally, but the mind develops a perceived need for N2O. Some people begin craving the buzz or euphoria, while others use its dissociative properties to escape reality. This can lead to a desire to inhale more nitrous oxide, putting the person at risk for serious side effects and overdose.

many aerosol cans

Withdrawal and Detox: What Does It Involve?

Once the exposure is discontinued, it can take 2-3 months for the chronic effects of whip it abuse to resolve. There are no severe withdrawal symptoms, and detoxification consists of:

  • Observation for 24-48 hours to ensure there are no signs of hypoxemia or pulmonary edema.
  • Oxygen administration if hypoxemia is present.
  • Treatment of secondary infections due to irritation of the respiratory tract from inhalation.
  • Vitamin B12 and folic acid supplementation to reverse the damage caused by whippits.
  • Corticosteroid therapy for bronchiolitis obliterans (respiratory complication).

Whip-It on Drug Tests

Whip it drug appeals to many people chasing a high because it is easily accessible and undetectable on drug tests. This short-acting inhalant has a half-life of only 5 minutes. This means that the drug is quickly eliminated from the body. The primary method of N2O elimination is through exhalation from the lungs. Very little of the gas is metabolized in the body, and it is excreted virtually unaltered. Breathing fresh air or oxygen therapy can help clear the remaining gas from the body. Users of whippit drug feel safe abusing it because it is not on the standard SAMHSA-5 list of basic tests. It is also not chemically similar to any of the substances typically included in drug tests, so it is unlikely to trigger a red flag.

Treating Addiction to Whippits

Physical addiction to inhaled nitrous oxide is rare, but not impossible. It is, however, possible to become psychologically addicted to the effects of whipit drug. People who are dependent on N2O continue using it despite being aware of the damage it can cause to their health. Besides, they may be unsuccessful in quitting whip-its drug when they try to do it without professional help at an addiction rehab center.

The mainstay of treatment for whipit addiction is addressing the underlying reasons why the abuse began in the first place. For example, mental health problems can prompt a person to cope with symptoms or seek an escape from reality. People with low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety may rely on whip-it to deal with their emotions. Substance abuse treatment professionals are well versed in helping people overcome these challenges. That’s why it is crucial to treat drug abuse with help from specialists.

When used in a supervised setting under the care of a medical professional, nitric oxide is a very safe inhalational anesthetic.

What makes this drug especially dangerous is its widespread availability, low cost, ease of use, and the misconception that inhaling a nitrous oxide whip it is quite safe.


Page Sources

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  3. Inhalants. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Revised 2017. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/inhalants
  4. R EDWARDS. Anaesthesia and alcohol. 1985. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1416319/pdf/bmjcred00461-0005.pdf
  5. Ozil C, Vialle R, Thevenin-Lemoine C, Conti E, Annequin D. Use of a combined oxygen/nitrous oxide/morphine chlorydrate protocol for analgesia in burned children requiring painful local care. Pediatr Surg Int. 2010 Mar;26(3):263-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19921515
  6. Rachel N. Lipari. Understanding Adolescent Inhalant Use. The CBHSQ Report. SAMHSA. 2017. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3095/ShortReport-3095.html
  7. RESULTS FROM THE 2016 NATIONAL SURVEY ON DRUG USE AND HEALTH: DETAILED TABLESPREVALENCE ESTIMATES, STANDARD ERRORS, P VALUES, AND SAMPLE SIZES. 2017. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016.pdf

Published on: July 30th, 2019

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

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