By Jaz Brennan and Larzell Washington, Groundcover vendor No. 128

Whipped cream: smooth, sugary, a favorite topping on many varieties of dessert. However, a new version of an old trend is overshadowing this tasty treat. The very thing that makes whipped cream so fluffy is being used to get people a rush greater than just a sugar rush. 

Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is the gas found in whipped cream canisters. A bulb full of the compressed gas (shown on this issue’s cover) is placed into a “gun” and released to foam the cream. The device was originally made for culinary purposes and could be found in restaurants and cafes, but now people are using the canisters and bulbs to ‘huff’ the gas. This drug, known as whippets, or whippits, is aptly named after the leading canister company Whip-It. 

Groundcover was able to speak with a past user of whippets, Miles, who reports having first tried the drug around the age of fifteen.

“I really like inhalants,” Miles stated. “They are the only thing other than alcohol that can get me there. But once you turn them on, it’s hard to turn them off.” 

Huffing is the act of inhaling chemicals through an aerosol spray. This is a highly accessible form of intoxication as aerosol sprays can be purchased at most, if not all, retail stores. This makes huffing popular with young people since the drug can be purchased without question. 

Miles voiced concern over the increasing accessibility of the drug, noting that it’s not just whippets, but other aerosol sprays as well. He reports having jumped from huffing whippets to air dusters because they were cheaper and more available.

“You can find [inhalants] everywhere. I remember finishing off an air duster three-pack in the parking lot of the Walmart. I just bought them.”

As the trend grows, these whipped cream canisters have been making their way into head shops, corner stores, and gas stations throughout the country. 

Nitrous oxide is commonly referred to as laughing gas and has been used by medical professionals for a century, often given to dental patients as a lighter alternative to other anesthetics. When introduced by a medical professional, ample amounts of oxygen are blended in the compound to decrease harmful effects; but the drug’s historic medical usage generates a false sense of security in young users who see the inhalant as non-lethal. 

When huffed, N2O causes a euphoric, relaxing, and semi-dissociative state. The high doesn’t last long, approximately 30 seconds to a minute, requiring a higher rate of use over a short period of time. 

Miles reported similar effects from the drug as mentioned above, euphoria and sensory alteration, but adds auditory and visual hallucinations to his experience as well. 

“It’s like I lose my mind and self for a moment.” 

Miles agreed this effect is short lived, most highs lasting one minute or less before needing more. He stated that after inhaling he would feel groggy and out of it immediately after and lasting up to a couple of days. 

“It kills a lot of brain cells, I could feel the brain damage.” 

Inhaling this type of chemical can cause several serious and potentially fatal effects. Damage to the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and nervous system has been reported. Memory loss, tinnitus, loss of muscle control and anemia have been the most common symptoms experienced in long-term use. However, the more immediate concerning effect of the inhalant is frostbite. N2O gas is released from the canister at -40 degrees celsius and can cause frostbite to the nose, mouth, and vocal cords. Those using it may experience numbness of the oral cavity, loss of taste or frozen gums and cheeks when huffing directly from a can. To subvert this effect, people have taken to releasing the gas first into a balloon, then breathing it in. This allows the gas to expand and warm before entering the body. However, even this creative solution doesn’t lessen the damage being done by the chemical itself. 

Nitrous oxide was first discovered over 240 years ago and has only been in practical and legitimate use for the past 100. It will take more education and conversation in the public eye to limit the extracurricular use of this addictive substance. 

Miles disclosed struggling with alcohol and inhalant addiction for years. He has been working to get and stay sober for the past ten months, utilizing a local recovery program and AA to assist him. 

“I just want anyone out there struggling to know that the recovery community is here to help.” 

If you are currently struggling with whippet or inhalant addiction, please reach out by contacting any of the resources below. 

SAMHSA National Helpline: 1(800) 662-HELP (ex. 4357)

Dawn Farms Spera Center: 1(743) 669-8265

Washtenaw County Alcoholics Anonymous: 1(734) 482-0707

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