It is the sad truth that anything not categorized as relatively important or dangerous is often overlooked. Rarely—if ever—will you see an anti-drug campaign include inhalants. The statistics place Whippets drug and huffing in the epidemic territory, yet the seriousness just does not seem to resonate with millions of people. This miscategorization—or lack of awareness—only makes this more dangerous.
In a 2017 publication by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Whippets drug and other inhalants are mentioned as some of the first drugs used by young children. Even of more concern is that roughly 1 in 5 children are reported to have used these inhalants by the time they are in the eighth grade. A 2011 article published in the Journal of Addiction Science and Clinical Practice states that:
- More than 22 million Americans aged 12 and older have used ‘whip its’ or have experimented with ‘huffing paint’.
- Every year, upwards of 750,000 young children try these inhalants for the first time.
Inhalants like Whippets drug and huffing paint are the ‘forgotten epidemic’, a side-lined enemy in the war on drugs. This is not to minimize the dangers of any drug being actively targeted, but to create awareness for those that more often than not go under the radar. The truth is, the numbers are distressing, especially if you have children of your own. With that said, the best way to fight something is to understand it first.
What are Inhalants?
Inhalant is a blanket term for the drugs that are, well, inhaled. The DEA describes them as invisible and volatile (evaporate at room temperature) substances that are found in common household products like computer cleaners, spray paint, and magic markers. When inhaled, these substances induce mind-altering effects.
Over 1000 readily available products contain these substances and are abused as inhalants. The National Inhalation Prevention Coalition has curated a list of these abused products. Common street names include ‘gluey’, ‘huff’, ‘rush’ and of course, ‘whippets’. Inhalants get their name because they can only be taken by inhaling, meaning other drugs that could be inhaled do not fall under this category.
They can be sniffed (snorted), bagged, or huffed. Bagging involves spraying a substance into a plastic bag and inhaling fumes, while huffing is more soaking a rug in a substance and placing it over the mouth and nose to inhale the fumes. A large number of commonly abused household products can be broken down into:
- Aerosol Sprays: Think of anything that can be sprayed out of a can or bottle; hair products and spray paint are the most prevalent.
- Solvents: These are volatile substances that tend to evaporate at room temperature. Glue, gasoline, and marker pens are good examples.
- Gases: Not as readily available in the home as the other two, but still easy enough to obtain. They include propane tanks, nitrous oxide which is found in empty whipped cream cans, some medical supplies like anesthesia and other home products.
- Nitrites: These can be found in prescription medicines for chest pains. Nitrites relax muscles and dilate blood vessels. While they are now prohibited by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), they can still be obtained as leather cleaners, video head cleaners, liquid aroma, and room odorizers.
It is mind-blowing how many everyday household products can be used in some way or form. From shoe polish to most types of cleaning fluid, most things paint-related, including the paint, and of course, nitrous oxide (better known as Whippets Drug).
To reiterate, most people do not think of these products as drugs because it is not the intended purpose. This, in turn, has done nothing to deter the abuse of these products. Amongst all the other drugs, inhalants are the only substances used more by younger children than older teens. Inhalants only give a high for a few minutes. To sustain the feeling, users will continuously inhale over and over, even for several hours. The danger here is evident.
What are Whippets?
Whippets drug, ‘whip it drug’ and ‘whippits’ can all be used interchangeably. It is the street name for a nitrous oxide charger. The name is obtained from the whipped cream canisters for which the nitrous oxide charger acts as a dispenser. The whipped cream itself is harmless, the culprit is the dispenser. Whippets drug abuse is dangerous, even fatal.
- Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide has been used as a drug for ages (as far back as the 1700s), and is also known as ‘laughing gas’. It is because of the euphoric effects that people inhale it to obtain a high. Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas, with a smell that can be described as sweet, used medically to relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and as an anesthetic. It is most commonly known for its use by dentists, who balance out the ratio of gases including supplemental oxygen. Abusers, however, do not have this control or supplemental oxygen.
Nitrogen Oxide (or ‘noz’) gives what is described as a cloudy feeling or warm sensations. Other ‘high’ effects are euphoria, numbness, and giddiness. Responses are determined by each person’s particulars including age, weight, size, frequency of use, and whether they are on another drug.
How is the Whip It Drug Used?
The dispenser found in whipped cream canisters can have oily residue left behind by the noz. An abuser sucks the gas intended to push out the whipped cream, also known as doing a ‘whip it’, thus the name ‘whip it’ drug. Additionally, the nitrous oxide charger has some sort of cartridges known as whippets (as in whippets drug) that contain the noz. Puncturing the cartridge lets the gas escape, and the abuser then inhales it directly. They may also place a balloon over the punctured section. This allows control over the pressure and the gas to warm up before inhaling out of the balloon.
The high from whippets drug only lasts for a short while, and users may use it alongside other drugs to ‘strengthen’ the high. This only compounds the risk of serious effects and consequences.
How Common is the Whip It Drug?
A 2015 report by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association) published the results of a coordinated study by themselves, the Centre for Behavioural Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ), and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Out of 684,000 adolescents, the study discovered that about 112, 000 used whippets drug.
Whip it drug is popular among teenagers and young adults, with its prevalence owing to how easy it is to obtain. This common recreational inhalant has been tried by millions of people at least once, with noz-filled balloons being sold at concerts, clubs, and parties. Keeping in mind that the numbers are from a few years back, one can only ask, what are the numbers like now?
Effects of Whippets Drug
With drug abuse comes consequences, dire ones at that. Whippet drug abuse is no different. The fact that people are oblivious to its harmful effects makes it more dangerous. In an aptly titled No Laughing Matter study in 2018, only a minority 29.3% were aware of any side effects. Most inhalants produce highs that resemble alcohol intoxication. There are short-term and more permanent side effects.
Euphoria aside, the effects felt almost immediately from whippets drug abuse include:
- Loss of coordination
- Blurry vision
- Confused/dazed state
- Uncontrollable laughter
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Larger amounts can result in:
- Low blood pressure
- Fainting:possibility of sustaining serious injuries during the fall if standing.
- Heart attacks
- Death by asphyxiation: suffocation where noz replaces too high a volume of oxygen in the lungs.
- Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS): the extreme rush caused by inhaling may cause an adverse reaction to epinephrine in the body resulting in heart failure.
Prolonged use may result in:
- Weak immunity
- Numbness in the limbs
- Ringing sound in the ears
- Memory loss
- Ineffective reproductive system
- Birth defects: for infants whose mothers abused while pregnant
- Irreversible inactivation of vitamin B12, a vitamin essential for nerve function.
- Hypoxia: the death of brain cells due to oxygen deprivation.
Inhaling directly from the whippets can cause frostbite or cold burns to the nose, mouth area, and throat as the gas is very cold. The pressure from the gas can also lead to ruptures in the lungs. The cold burns can also be experienced on the hands during puncturing.
These injuries and other symptoms may be the clues and indicators that someone is using whippets drug, as are disposed whippets, balloons, and any symptoms. Watch out for your children.
An Overview of Huffing
What is huffing? As briefly described a few paragraphs earlier, huffing is soaking a rag or piece of cloth in certain chemicals and then placing it inside or over the mouth to inhale the fumes. It is also used as a general term for inhalant abuse where fumes from commonplace household items are inhaled. It is commonly associated with spray paints and other paint-related products, glue, or cleaning products. Similar to whip it drugs, the appeal for huffing owes to the fact that these products are readily available in the home. As is with other inhalants, the huffing problem is seemingly overlooked by many and not seen to be as bad as opioids or hard drugs.
- Huffing Glue
You wouldn’t think that anyone would willingly huff glue, right? Well, in the earlier referenced report by SAMHSA, a total of 461,000 adolescents used either glue, shoe polish, or some form of toluene in an attempt to get high. Toluene is a clear and colorless liquid with a distinctive smell. It can dissolve other substances. It is used in a variety of products and is the main stimulant for inhalant abuse.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that toluene may affect the central nervous system.To quote the section on its seriousness, the agency states: “One very dangerous activity is to expose yourself to a large amount of toluene in a short time by deliberately inhaling/sniffing paint or glue…If you choose to repeatedly breathe in toluene from glue or paint thinners, you may permanently damage your brain.”
The effects of huffing glue, like dizziness, headaches, and loss of coordination can thus be attributed to toluene. It can also affect the lungs, liver, and kidneys due to its toxicity. Huffing glue leaves residue around the mouth region. That plus cracked skin are tell-tale signs that someone is huffing glue, probably using a paper bag.
- Huffing Paint
Huffing—the act of dousing a rag in chemicals and placing it in or over the mouth—is mostly associated with paint. Huffing paint is therefore pretty much straightforward. The SAMHSA report indicated that 415,000 had used spray paints and some 158,000 used lacquer thinner and other paint solvents. One could argue that paint and glue will be in more households than whipped cream canisters. The rush from huffing paint is as well attributed to the chemical toluene. It is said to be in the largest quantities in gold and silver paints.
Effects and Dangers of Huffing
Effects of huffing glue (toluene) are carried over to huffing paint:
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Disorientation (drunken state)
- Slurry speech
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of coordination
- Mood changes
- General body weakness
How do you know if someone is huffing?
To identify someone who has been huffing, look out for:
- Paint or stains on skin and clothing
- Discarded clothes and rags covered in paint
- Reddish eyes
- Mouth sores
- A decline in health or personal hygiene
- Missing household items
- Empty containers
Just like with the whip it drug, irregular heart rhythms can cause heart problems. First-time use or recurrent use after an extended period can be fatal either by asphyxiation or suffocation, especially if the rag is placed inside the mouth. Damages to other major organs like the lungs, kidney, and liver may be irreversible as might be the brain damage.
Treating the Effects of Huffing and Whippets Drug
You, as a parent or guardian, should pay close attention to any children you interact with, watching out for any signs. Are you already doing so? Great. What next?
Any already affected children should be afforded the necessary help and support, and while some effects are irreversible, there can be a relief for the symptoms. Emergency services can be called in to provide the initial medical attention while sourcing for professional treatment or a non 12 step rehab. Taking the example of huffing, supplementing oxygen is one of the primary treatments. Vitamin B12 supplements can be used to relieve any nerve-related effects. Rehabilitation for those dependent on inhalants is widely and readily available. Inhalants are addictive.
Solutions to the Huffing and Whippets Drug Problem
Is there a problem? Yes, a huge problem! Until a proper onslaught is mounted against inhalants, it is the responsibility of every parent, sibling, relative or concerned citizen to play their role in protecting the already affected or the exposed teens. Awareness is a good starting point, with the effects and irreversible damage of these inhalants serving as a potential deterrent.
A quick online search about the effects of these drugs can yield very confusing testimonials. As you may recall, the effects of whippet drug and huffing are dependent on factors like size, weight, and personal history with other drugs. While some users of inhalants may not experience some negative side effects for a while, others may be hit with the worst possible outcome on the first try. Either way, a high lasting a few minutes is simply not worth the risk.
Most of these household items are legal but misused, and from a legal standpoint, that may be difficult to amend. However, better controls can be put in place to make these items inaccessible to minors. It’s about time we shed light on this silent epidemic!