Whippets: What You Need to Know About These Inhalant Drugs

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on May 17, 2024
8 min read

Whippets, or nitrous oxide, are popular inhalant drugs. You may also hear them referred to as "whippits" or "whip-its." The drug gets its name from whipped-cream aerosol canisters that people open to misuse the gas inside. Nitrous oxide cuts off oxygen to the brain, creating a euphoric high that lowers your mental and physical pain.

Other names for the whippets drug are laughing gas (though it rarely causes people to laugh), nitro, nangs, nossies, hippy crack, and balloons. They're popular in nightclubs and at music festivals. The gas is tasteless and colorless.

To use an inhalant drug, a person will breathe in fumes from a closed source. They may cover their face and the canister with a bag or mask to inhale whippets. Or they may put the gas into a balloon and inhale it from there.

Whippet highs are short. So many users "huff," or sniff, the fumes over and over after their first high.

How common is it?

According to a 2022 survey from the U.S. government's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 13.9 million Americans over the age of 12, or 4.9% of the U.S. population, have misused nitrous oxide. That's an increase of over 1 million people from the 2021 survey. In England and Wales, nitrous oxide is the third most-used drug after marijuana and cocaine. It's also the 13th most-used drug worldwide, according to the Global Drug Survey.

What are whippet crackers?

These are another name for whipped cream dispensers, which are cylinder-shaped canisters with a nozzle on top and a handle on the side. They're used in commercial kitchens for holding ingredients that are going to be infused with nitrous oxide to make them foamy. But drug abusers also use them by placing a balloon right over the container and inhaling the contents.

Nowadays, there are small versions of these canisters specifically made for people to use for getting high. These 2-inch canisters resemble flashlights and have pieces of foil over them. You use a whippet cracker, a small metal cylinder with a screw top, to pierce the canister and inhale the gas.

These crackers carry the risk of gas being released around the edges of the canister, potentially causing chill burns to the user. To lessen that risk, people often tie a party balloon to the cap of the cracker, which has some holes. The balloon allows the gas temperature to warm up. Some states have specifically banned the sale of whippet crackers.

Nitrous oxide is legal to buy because it has many legitimate uses. People use it to create whipped cream and cooking spray, as well as to increase the power of car engines. Doctors and dentists use nitrous oxide as a sedative. But using nitrous oxide for recreational purposes is illegal. In many states, you can be fined and/or jailed for violating inhalant laws, such as selling these inhalants to minors or inhaling them yourself.

Do whippets show up on drug tests?

No, they don't show up in routine drug tests because the gas has a very short half-life and leaves the body very quickly. Doctors usually have to take a history to figure out if a patient used nitrous oxide.

Some people believe that whippets are safer to use than other inhalant drugs. But nitrous oxide misuse can be very harmful.

How long does the whippet high last?

Whippets will create a euphoric high within 10 seconds. This happens because they mess with your body's central nervous system, slowing down brain activity when they cut off oxygen. The high only lasts a few minutes, leading users to repeatedly sniff large quantities over a short period to continue the buzz.

Short-term effects of whippets

Experts still don't understand exactly how nitrous oxide affects your body. But these are some of the general effects:

  • You feel joyful, happy, and excited.
  • Your mind feels separate from your body like it's floating.
  • Your ability to sense things such as pain, sound, or touch is lowered.
  • You have visual and auditory hallucinations (more common if you mix whippets with other drugs).

Whippet side effects

The side effects of whippets are like those of alcohol. While nitrous oxide might not affect your memory, intelligence, or concentration to the extent that other drugs do, it will still have an impact. Symptoms depend on your weight, overall health, the amount you use, and if you've mixed it with other drugs. They include:

  • A tingling sensation
  • Dizziness or tiredness
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • A lack of balance or coordination
  • Experiencing delusions or false beliefs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches

The most common side effect is falling down and passing out.

Long-term effects of whippets

In addition to harmful short-term side effects, whippets can also cause dangerous long-term problems such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • A lack of oxygen or breathing trouble
  • A lack of vitamin B12 (whippets prevent B12 from being absorbed in the body, causing nerve damage)
  • A loss of overall coordination
  • Damage to your bone marrow
  • Issues with behavioral development
  • Heart rate disruption
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lasting ringing or buzzing in your ears
  • No control over your bladder or bowels
  • Depression, psychosis, or other similar issues

If you use whippets during pregnancy, they can also lead to birth defects.

It's unsafe to use whippets. If you're a teenager, stay away from whippets altogether. Instead, talk to a parent or a grown-up you trust if you think you may be addicted to them.

If you're an adult who does them, here are ways to lower your risk:

Use a balloon. The gas is about minus 40 degrees F. So, when you inhale it directly from a canister, it can cause frostbite on your lips, nose, or throat. It's also under a lot of pressure, which can harm your lungs. Put the nitrous oxide into a balloon first and then inhale it. This creates a normal temperature and pressure level.

Take breaks. Don't use several whippets in a row without taking breaths in between. Lack of oxygen can cause hypoxia, which can damage your brain and body. Slow down and breathe between "hits."

Never put a bag or mask over your face while inhaling. Several people have died doing whippets this way.

Monitor your vitamin B12 levels. Whippets prevent the body from absorbing vitamin B12, which can cause serious muscle weakness or even loss of muscle function. Take vitamin B supplements and do a blood test to check your vitamin B levels.

Stay seated. If you're standing, dancing, or moving around as you inhale a whippet, you have a higher chance of passing out, due to your loss of motor control.

Be aware of fire risks. Don't open whippet canisters around flammable substances, open flames, or cigarettes.

Avoid mixing. It's never a good idea to mix substances. Avoid alcohol and other drugs if you use whippets.

Be around others. It's unsafe to use harmful drugs while you're alone. Be around others in a safe environment if you choose to use whippets. That way you can get help if something goes wrong.

Dispose of empty canisters responsibly, either in a special trash bin (if you're at a festival or concert), or take them home. Don't leave the empty containers in the street.


Some people mix nitrous oxide with other drugs such as cannabis, LSD, ketamine, and magic mushrooms to increase their high. Mixing whippets with these drugs may put pressure on your heart and increase your blood pressure. Drinking alcohol while taking whippets can increase nausea and dizziness, which may cause vomiting.

Whippets aren't physically addictive, in the sense that they don't affect hormones such as dopamine and alter brain chemistry. But you can develop a psychological addiction to them. This happens because your brain likes the high from nitrous oxide. These highs change your brain's reward center and make you crave it more.

If you're addicted to whippets, you have a higher chance of dying from them. In a few cases, people have died from suffocation after inhaling large amounts of nitrous oxide. This happens because nitrous oxide cuts off oxygen supply to the body and brain.

Even if you don't die, the lack of oxygen can cause permanent damage to your brain and other parts of your body.

Signs of a whippets overdose include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

If you or a friend is overdosing on nitrous oxide, call 911 immediately. Paramedics don't normally notify the police, but it can depend on where you live. To be extra careful, tell the dispatcher that your friend is not breathing or any other symptoms you observe, as opposed to saying your friend is overdosing.

Here are some signs that a friend or child might be abusing whippets:

  • They act dazed or dizzy as if they're drunk.
  • They have a "huffer's rash" (red spots or sores around the mouth).
  • You see drug accessories around -- empty metal cylinders, balloons, etc.
  • They complain of chronic headaches.
  • They have trouble walking.
  • Their breath smells like chemicals.
  • They become moody and irritable.
  • They're absent a lot from school or work.

Treatment is similar to that for other forms of drug abuse. You can look into inpatient or outpatient rehab facilities; alternative addiction treatment programs (which focus on holistic treatment options); detox programs to slowly wean you off whippets; talk therapy; or group therapy that will connect you with other people in your situation.

Visit FindTreatment.gov (sponsored by the U.S. government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA) to find treatment centers.

"Whippets" is a street term for nitrous oxide, a popular party drug. Although nitrous oxide is legal, sniffing it is not. It gives a feel of euphoria when huffed, which only lasts a few minutes, so you need to keep huffing to keep the high going. Sniffing too many whippets can make you pass out in the short term. Its long-term use can cause kidney, nerve, and heart problems.

How many whippets are too many?

That depends on your size, overall health, and whether you're mixing it with other drugs. You're certainly better off doing one or two at a time than hundreds, as some of the most addicted people do. One study found that most users took less than 10 balloons of nitrous oxide per session, and about 80% of users had less than 10 sessions per year. This is considered "moderate use" of nitrous oxide.

How bad are whippets?

You might think that because nitrous oxide is legal, the risks of huffing it are small. But whippets can cause you to pass out at a party and injure yourself. Long-term use can cause nerve problems, lack of muscle control, heart rate problems, and blood pressure issues. 

How many brain cells do whippets kill?

We do know that long-term use of whippets can cause brain damage by blocking the absorption of vitamin B12. It's therefore possible that whippets can kill brain cells, though no one knows how many.