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What are nitrous oxide ‘whip-its?’
While most people use nitrous oxide canisters to make whipped cream, partyers inhale them for a brief, euphoric high.
Reports that actress Demi Moore, hospitalized earlier this week for a “seizure” and shaking, had inhaled the gas may spur more people to try the cheap buzz.
Nitrous oxide is characterized as an inhalant, used by those who like to “huff” chemicals.
People can buy canisters online or in the kitchen supply aisle of stores. Balloons filled with the gas are often sold in the parking lots of concerts. Some just extract the gas out of cans of Reddi-Wip.
A quick flash is often accompanied by dizziness, lack of coordination and slurred speech. Since the effect is so brief, users tend to inhale again and again, increasing their feelings of giddiness.
“Essentially, you’re depriving the brain of oxygen,” said Bobby Alexander, a social worker at Realization Center, a drug and alcohol rehab center in New York City. “It’s an immediate, short-term high. Long-term use can definitely lead to brain damage.”
Deprivation of oxygen to the brain, called hypoxia, can cause many long-term problems, including memory loss.
In the short term, inhalants can cause users to have seizures or even sudden death.
People who inhale large amounts of nitrous oxide from a balloon can die of suffocation.
“You get nitrous oxide at the dentist, but it’s regulated,” explained Christine Fitzgerald, also on the staff of the Realization Center. “You’re not meant to inhale large amounts of nitrous oxide in one dose.”
Mixing the gas with other drugs or alcohol increases the risk of serious injury or death.
The gas itself is not illegal. In many states, however, it is illegal to sell or distribute nitrous oxide to a minor or abuse it for recreational purposes.
Some states, including New York, make possession of nitrous oxide with the intent to inhale or sell the chemical a crime.