Drug and Alcohol

Are Whippets Addictive?

Are Whippets Addictive? These easy-to-get cannisters of nitrous oxide seem safe. But there's real dangers of long-term nitrous oxide use.

What Are Whippets?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

July 7, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

There has been a rise in whippet addiction in the USA.

Various factors can be behind the reason for the rise in whippet addiction. Easy accessibility of whippets, which is a slang term for small canisters of nitrous oxide used to make whipped cream, helps to drive this form of inhalant abuse. In addition, the euphoric high created by it has made it a popular choice as a recreational drug.

A comprehensive treatment approach can successfully treat the addiction to laughing gas, however.

Stats About Inhalant Abuse:

The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that one in ten persons has used an inhalant at least once, with 0.5% doing so within the past year. In addition, 8% of all inhalant users in the past year satisfied the criteria for an inhalant use disorder (6.6% for abuse and 1.1% for dependence). This reflects the seriousness of the issue prevalent with inhalant misuse in the USA.

So, what are whippets?

Whippet Addiction: What are Whippets?

Nitrous oxide, also known as N2O or 'laughing gas,' is a colorless gas. Its analgesic and anesthetic properties make it a common gas in medical settings, especially in dentistry. Nitrous oxide is often used in auto sports, as it can increase an engine’s power output by allowing the ocean to burn more fuel. It’s also a common propellant in aerosol sprays, particularly in whipped cream and cooking sprays.

It’s also been used as a recreational drug for centuries. Because nitrous oxide can produce sensations of euphoria, it’s been a popular recreational drug. In the 18th century, nitrous oxide was used at “laughing gas parties” among the upper class in England.

In modern times, nitrous oxide is often inhaled recreationally from small canisters that house the compressed gas and are frequently called whippets. They are sometimes called "whippets" since they are frequently found in whipped cream dispensers. Inhalation occurs after the gas is discharged into a bag or balloon.

Whippet Addiction: How Do Whippets Work?

Inhaling nitrous oxide results in an instant but intense high and euphoric sensation. It works by temporarily lowering the quantity of oxygen getting to the brain, which causes dizziness, relaxation, and sometimes a sense of being detached from the body. Additionally, it may result in hallucinations of both sound and vision.

The person often experiences the symptoms briefly before returning to normal.

Although nitrous oxide can be used legally for medical and dental purposes, it can be risky recreationally. Nitrous oxide abuse or overuse can cause oxygen deprivation, lightheadedness, loss of coordination, and even unconsciousness. In addition, long-term and severe use can result in vitamin B12 deficiency, nerve damage, and other health issues.

Nitrous oxide recreational use, particularly "whippets," is considered a form of inhalant abuse and potentially dangerous. The name “whippets” comes from a popular brand of nitrous oxide containers.

Whippet Addiction: How Do Whippets Affect the Brain?

Nitrous oxide is commonly consumed for recreational purposes as it has euphoric effects. However, it can quickly transport nitrous oxide to the brain immediately after inhalation, impacting the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Nitrous oxide primarily works by interacting with the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors, which regulate memory, pain perception, and consciousness. Nitrous oxide inhibits the activity of NMDA receptors, leading to decreased transmission of excitatory signals in the brain.

Consumption of whippets has varied effects on the brain. By inhibiting the NMDA receptors, they can induce a sense of dissociation from normal self-perception. It creates a feeling of separation of ideas and perception from the environment and can lead to feelings of distorted perception of self.

Whippets affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and opioid neurotransmitter systems. GAB is an inhibitory neurotransmitter; whippets enhance GABA's activity, reducing neural excitability. It leads to a calming effect on the brain.

Also, nitrous oxide triggers the body's natural painkillers, known as endogenous opioids, to be released. The analgesic (pain-relieving) effects from nitrous oxide's stimulation of opioid receptors further improve the entire experience.

Whippets usually have relatively fleeting effects that persist for a few minutes. The effects of nitrous oxide eventually wear off as the body swiftly eliminates it, and the person gradually returns to ordinary awareness.

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Are Whippets Addictive?

Technically, nitrous oxide isn’t addictive. It simply doesn’t work the way other drugs do, and there are no physical withdrawal symptoms from whippets.

That said, it’s very possible to develop an intense psychological dependency on whippets. This means a person may feel intense discomfort when they’re not able to use whippets.

What are the Symptoms of Whippet Addiction?

Whippet addiction is often marked by a compulsive urge to use it despite being aware of the negative consequences. The common symptoms of addiction to whippets include:

Increased Cravings

Individuals addicted to whippets may experience intense cravings for the substance. These cravings can be persistent and difficult to resist, leading to a preoccupation with obtaining and using whippets.

Tolerance

With regular use, the body can tolerate nitrous oxide's effects. This means that over time, higher doses of whippets may be required to achieve the desired high or effects initially experienced with smaller doses.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Whippets, unlike most other drugs, do not produce withdrawal symptoms when their use stops. However, it’s very possible to develop a psychological dependence on whippets, meaning a person could experience intense anxiety when they’re not able to use whippets.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Whippet addiction can lead to neglecting personal and professional responsibilities. Individuals may prioritize obtaining and using whippets over their work, education, relationships, and other essential obligations.

Social Isolation

Addiction can often lead to social withdrawal as individuals become more focused on substance use. They may distance themselves from family and friends who do not support or engage in their drug use.

Financial Problems

Addiction can also cause financial strain. An individual may spend significant money on purchasing whippets or related paraphernalia, leading to financial instability or debt.

Physical and Psychological Health Issues

Prolonged and excessive use of whippets can harm physical and mental health. Nitrous oxide abuse can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, leading to neurological problems, including numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and difficulty with coordination.

Additionally, chronic use may contribute to memory loss, cognitive impairment, mood disturbances, and anxiety disorders.

What are the Causes of Whippet Addiction?

There can be various root causes that can lead to the development of addiction to whippets. They include a combination of different genetic, psychological, and environmental causes.

However, some of the common underlying causes of addiction to whippets have been listed below:

Biological Factors

An individual's biological and genetic factors play an important role in deciding the development of whippet addiction. Some people are genetically predisposed to substance misuse and addiction. Depending on how the brain reacts to substances, there can be differences in levels of addiction.

Psychological Factors

Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, or trauma can contribute to the development of addiction. People may use substances like whippets to self-medicate or escape emotional pain or distress.

Social Environment

The social environment in which a person lives can influence their substance use behaviors. Peer pressure and social norms surrounding substance use can play a significant role in initiating and maintaining addiction.

If individuals are surrounded by friends or acquaintances who engage in whippet use, it can normalize and encourage their use.

Availability and Accessibility

The easy availability and accessibility of whippets can contribute to whippet addiction. Whippets are legally available for legitimate purposes, like making whipped cream, but they can also be obtained for recreational purposes. If someone has easy access to whippets and the paraphernalia needed to inhale them, it increases the likelihood of misuse and whippet addiction.

The Effects Whippets Produce

Whippets produce a short-lived euphoric high when inhaled, which feels good and reinforces the desire to use them repeatedly. The rewarding effects of the drug can create a cycle of use and increase the risk of addiction.

Lack of Coping Mechanisms

Individuals who struggle with stress management or have difficulty coping with life's challenges may turn to substances like whippets to escape or cope with their problems. This can lead to a reliance on the substance to manage emotions or situations, eventually resulting in addiction.

Previous Substance Use

A history of substance abuse, whether with whippets or other substances, can increase the likelihood of developing an addiction. Individuals who have already experienced the effects of addiction may be more susceptible to developing addictive behaviors with different substances.

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Whippet Addiction: Whippets and Co-occurring Conditions

Co-occurring conditions can worsen with the consumption or addiction of whippets. There can be a worsening of already existing mental health disorders. Known as a dual diagnosis, this is a common yet complex disorder that requires professional treatment.

Below are the details stating how whippets can worsen co-occurring diseases:

Mental Health Disorders

Misuse of whippets can significantly impact mental health. Nitrous oxide abuse can lead to the depletion of vitamin B12, which is crucial for maintaining healthy neurological functioning. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in symptoms similar to mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, mood swings, and cognitive impairment.

While nitrous oxide abuse can mimic mental health symptoms, it is important to note that it does not necessarily cause the disorders themselves. However, substance abuse, including whippets, can exacerbate or trigger pre-existing mental health conditions.

Anxiety Disorders

Whippets can have anxiolytic effects, temporarily reducing feelings of anxiety and inducing a sense of relaxation. This may lead individuals with anxiety disorders to misuse whippets to self-medicate or alleviate their symptoms.

However, reliance on whippets for anxiety relief can worsen the underlying condition and increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Mood Disorders

Misuse of whippets can affect mood regulation. While nitrous oxide inhalation can initially induce euphoria and a sense of well-being, the subsequent crash can lead to sadness, irritability, and dysphoria. This rollercoaster effect can contribute to developing or worsening mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.

Psychotic Disorders

Chronic and heavy use of whippets can result in vitamin B12 deficiency, leading to neurological complications. This deficiency can cause severe neurological symptoms similar to those seen in psychotic disorders, such as hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive impairment.

While the use of whippets does not directly cause psychotic disorders, it can worsen symptoms or trigger episodes in individuals already vulnerable to such conditions.

Trauma-Related Disorders

Individuals who have experienced trauma may turn to substances like whippets to numb emotional pain or dissociate from distressing memories. This self-medication can perpetuate and worsen trauma-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or dissociative disorders.

Treating co-occurring disorders involves an integrated approach that simultaneously addresses both the substance use disorder and the mental health condition. Comprehensive treatment plans may include therapy, medication management, support groups, and other evidence-based interventions to promote recovery from addiction and the co-occurring disorder.

How is Whippet Addiction Treated?

A comprehensive approach is needed to treat whippet addiction. The approach should address the social, psychological, and physical aspects associated with this condition. Each individual requires a specific treatment method.

Some of the standard treatment includes:

Drug Detox

Detoxification focuses on carefully managing the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using whippets. It is frequently employed in the initial step in the treatment of addiction. Under medical supervision, drug detoxification may occur in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Medical personnel may administer drugs or supportive care to reduce withdrawal symptoms and guarantee the person's security and comfort throughout the detoxification process.

Therapy and Counseling

Behavioral therapies are crucial in treating addiction. Individual therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals identify and change the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors contributing to their addiction. Therapy sessions may also address underlying mental health issues and teach coping skills to prevent relapse.

Support Groups

A sense of attachment, belongingness, and accountability can be provided by support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, to individuals recovering from addiction. These groups allow others to share their experiences, providing a sense of support and peer learning from others who have faced and overcame similar challenges.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

If co-occurring mental health disorders are alongside addiction, an integrated treatment that simultaneously addresses both conditions is essential. Dual diagnosis treatment ensures that individuals receive comprehensive care for their addiction and any underlying mental health issues.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication can sometimes be a necessary component of a whippet addiction recovery program. To assist with moderate urges and lower the chance of relapse, doctors may prescribe drugs like naltrexone or buprenorphine. MAT is usually used in combination with other treatments to get better results.

Holistic Approaches

Complementary therapies such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, art therapy, or exercise can be incorporated into the treatment plan to promote overall well-being and provide healthy coping mechanisms. These approaches can help individuals manage stress, improve self-awareness, and enhance their focus on recovery.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

Long-term rehabilitation requires continued support and relapse prevention techniques after formal treatment has ended. This might include continuing therapy, joining support groups, visiting doctors frequently, and creating a relapse prevention strategy to recognize triggers and implement coping mechanisms.

Inhalant Addiction is Treatable. If You’re Struggling with Whippet Addiction, The Forge Recovery Center Will Help

Whippet addiction, while seeming relatively harmless on the surface, has terrible long-term consequences. The Forge Recovery Center provides evidence-based, effective treatment for inhalant abuse and dual diagnosis.

At The Forge, we’ve carefully curated an ideal environment where real healing can take place. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our clients are able to safely explore the roots of addiction, form healthy coping mechanisms, and more. With our help, our clients build happy, successful lives without substance abuse.

If you want to learn more about our successful inhalant abuse programs, reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today.

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