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The impact of whippets on adolescent minds

By The Health News Team | June 28, 2023
Nitrous oxide cartridge with two balloons

Whippets, inhalant drugs also known as "laughing gas" or nitrous oxide, have become increasingly popular among teenagers. For those seeking a quick high, whippets are both affordable and easily accessible, especially since the gas is found in everyday items, such as cooking spray or whipped cream canisters.

However, inhaling whippets can pose significant health risks. Yet despite these dangers, some teenagers continue to use them without fully comprehending the serious implications.

Erynn Macciomei, a clinical psychologist from Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, provides valuable insights on the effects of whippets on young people.

Q: What are whippets?

Whippets, also known as whip-its or whippits, are inhalant “party” drugs. Users inhale nitrous oxide gas from chargers, which are small metal cartridges found in some types of household canisters, such as whipped cream canisters, to achieve a short-lived "high." The gas can be inhaled directly or through a balloon or bag filled with the gas.

Q: What are the short-term and long-term effects of doing whippets?

Whippets have a range of short-term effects on users’ physical and mental states. These include confusion, disorientation, hallucinations and distorted perception of time and space. It is crucial to highlight the potential risks associated with whippet use, particularly among adolescents who may engage in risky behaviors while under the influence.

Frequent or prolonged use of whippets can also have severe long-term health consequences. Whippet abuse can interfere with brain development, affecting cognitive abilities and decision-making skills. These risks are particularly concerning for adolescents, as their brains are still developing and more vulnerable to the negative effects of substances. Long-term use can also lead to neurological damage, respiratory problems and cardiovascular complications.

Q: Are whippets addictive?

Repeated and excessive use of whippets can lead to psychological dependency and strong cravings. It is important to recognize the addictive nature of whippets and not underestimate the risks associated with regular use. Psychological dependency can result in an overwhelming need to use whippets, driven by the pursuit of a euphoric effect.

Q: What are the potential psychological or emotional consequences of whippet use?

Regular whippet use can significantly impact the brain development of adolescents. When inhaled, nitrous oxide, the active component of whippets, can disrupt neurotransmitter activity in the brain, creating imbalances that significantly impact mood and overall mental well-being. This can lead to increased vulnerability to anxiety disorders, depression and substance use disorders.

Q: What signs or behaviors of whippet use should parents and guardians watch for?

Parents should watch for the unusual presence of small metal cartridges, whipped cream canisters and balloons in their child's room or belongings. Sudden changes in behavior or social groups; secretive or evasive behavior; frequent episodes of lightheadedness or dizziness; slurred speech; and noticeable declines in academic performance can also be signs of whippet use. Additionally, parents should be attentive to physical signs, such as burns or frostbite around the mouth or fingers, which can result from using whippets.

Q: Are whippets the only inhaled substance to be worried about?

Inhalant abuse goes beyond just using whippets. Even common household solvents, such as glue and aerosol propellants found in spray paints and air fresheners, can be misused as inhalants. Another type of inhalant substance known as "poppers" can also be abused due to the euphoria they produce.

Helping your teen understand the dangers of inhalant use

It's essential to be aware of the risks associated with any drug use and educate teenagers about them. If someone is struggling with inhalant misuse, they should seek help immediately. When addressing adolescent substance misuse, Macciomei recommends parents, guardians and other trusted adults cultivate open and honest communication.

“By having compassionate conversations with teenagers and actively listening to their experiences and concerns, trust can be established, and healthier choices can be encouraged," she says.

Seeking therapeutic interventions, such as group, individual or family therapy, can help address underlying mental health issues and enable effective communication about substance use. Talk with your child’s doctor about concerns you may have about inhalant or other substance use. Together, you can determine the best course of action.

Learn more about adolescent mental health outpatient programs at Sharp Mesa Vista; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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