What Are Whippets?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 09, 2022
4 min read

Whippets, or nitrous oxide, are popular "party" 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. These drugs create a high that lowers your mental and physical pain.

Whippets are easy to get since products with nitrous oxide are legal. In many areas, it's illegal to sell these products to teenagers under 18. But even with this law, teens are still one of the largest groups of whippet users.

Doctors use nitrous oxide as an anesthetic for pain relief. It's common in dentist offices and other medical settings. You may hear people call it "laughing gas." It's safe to use for medical reasons. But nitrous oxide becomes harmful when you use it as an inhalant to get high.

To use an inhalant drug, a person will breathe in fumes from a closed source. People 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.

Some people believe that whippets are safer to use than other inhalant drugs. But nitrous oxide misuse can be very harmful. It can lead to long-term side effects or even death.

Whippets will create a euphoric high. This happens because they mess with your body's central nervous system. They'll slow down your brain activity as they cut off oxygen to your brain.

Experts still don't understand exactly how nitrous oxide affects your body. But they've found that the drug affects you in a few different ways:

  • It lowers your ability to sense things like pain, sound, or touch.
  • It affects your brain's emotional responses.
  • It may cause you to feel lightheaded or hallucinate.
  • You may have delusions or false beliefs.

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 may still have an impact.

You might have different side effects than another person. But some of the most common symptoms of whippet use include:

  • A tingling sensation
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Feeling high
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling airy
  • Slurred speech
  • A lack of balance or coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unclear eyesight

Your symptoms will be different based on how much nitrous oxide you huffed. Your weight, your overall health, the amount you used, and any drug mixing will also affect how the drug reacts with your body. 

Misuse of nitrous oxide isn't safe. Younger users are at a higher risk for substance abuse with whippets. 

Whippets aren't physically addictive, 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.

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

  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • A lack of oxygen or breathing trouble
  • A lack of vitamin B12
  • Nerve damage
  • A loss of overall coordination
  • Damage to your bone marrow
  • Issues with behavioral development
  • Leg or arm spasms
  • A temporary loss of your body's movement (motor control)
  • Heart rate changes
  • A 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.

If you're addicted to whippets, you have a higher chance of dying from them. If you use a lot of nitrous oxide, it messes with your oxygen supply. The drug can cut off your oxygen and cause you to pass out or die.

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

It's unsafe to use whippets.  If you are a teenager, steer clear of whippets altogether. Instead, talk to a parent or a grownup you trust if you think you may be addicted to them. 

If you are an adult who chooses to do them anyway, there are ways to lower your risk:

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

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 choose to use whippets.

Stay seated. If you're standing, dancing, or moving around as you inhale a whippet, you have a higher chance of passing out.

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.

Don't hinder breathing. You put yourself more at risk if you put a bag or mask over your head as you inhale a whippet. Don't mess with your air supply at all.

Whippet use can harm your overall health, family life, career, education, your relationships, and finances. If these drugs begin to affect you or a loved one's well-being, it's important to get help.

There are treatments available for this form 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.