Entries in Whip Its (2)


Dangerous Teen Craze Whip-Its Making a Comeback?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There is growing concern among health professionals that Whip-Its -- small canisters filled with nitrous oxide that can be used as a recreational drug and were reportedly used by actress Demi Moore shortly before she was rushed to the hospital in January -- are making a comeback among teenagers and young adults across the country.

"What makes them really popular is they're easily accessible," said William Oswald, founder of the Summit Malibu drug treatment center.  "You can get them at a head shop, you can get it out of a whipped cream bottle."

The most recent figures show that Whip-Its have become the most popular recreational inhalant of choice, with over 12 million users in the U.S. who have tried it at least once, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Inhaling the compressed gas, either from the Whip-It chargers, a whipped cream canister, or a nitrous tank, is purported to result in a fleeting high, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

And while some states have passed laws attempting to stop the inhalation of nitrous, experts say the use of Whip-Its is mostly ignored by authorities and left unregulated.

"It's non-detectable," said Oswald.  "So when they're testing people, it doesn't show."

An ABC News investigation airing Tuesday night on Nightline found that multiple online retailers allowed large purchases of the Whip-Its, with no questions asked about age or what they would be used for.  A tobacco shop selling the canisters alongside cigars and rolling papers insisted they were cooking supplies, but then immediately removed all boxes from the shelves when confronted with ABC News cameras.

But while a growing collection of user videos on YouTube portray doing Whip-Its, or "Noz" as it's sometimes called, as a harmless, laughter-inducing activity, it can be deadly.

Illinois college student Benjamin Collen, 19, died from asphyxiation from nitrous oxide.  He was found dead in a fraternity house surround by Whip-Its chargers in 2008.

Melyssa Gastelum was an 18-year-old aspiring fashion model and National Honors Society student when she went to an all-ages party in Phoenix last May where she inhaled Whip-Its and ingested a small amount of ecstasy.  She died later at the hospital and the medical examiner ruled that nitrous oxide was a contributing factor in her death.

"I wish I could wake up from this nightmare," said her mother, Christy Gastelum.  "I ask myself, 'Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why?'"

Experts told ABC News it's not clear why sniffing death occurs in some people and not others, which adds to the hidden danger of using inhalants such as Whip-Its.

Dr. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at SAMHSA, said inhaling nitrous oxide, or huffing as it's sometimes called, can cut off oxygen to the brain and result in severe effects on the body's cardiovascular system.

"What you're concerned about is heart effects, effects on their peripheral nervous system, effects on their organ system," said Clark.

Debbie Goldman knows that all too well.  She said she started using Whip-Its in college and through her years at one of the country's leading law firms, going through 10 boxes of the tiny chargers every night, 24 to a box.

"My whole body would go numb, and I would just fall asleep," Goldman said.  "My neurologist told me I was very lucky that I didn't die from it or have brain damage."

When she woke up one morning and couldn't walk, she said she required intense physical therapy for six months.  Then she entered rehab and got sober.  Now, Goldman said she wants young people to know how addictive and dangerous Whip-Its can be, and she wants officials to take notice.

"They should not be accessible like they are," she said.

The grieving family of Melyssa Gastelum are also now committed to raising awareness about the dangers of nitrous oxide inhalation.

"Our parents did talk to us about marijuana, heroine, drinking and driving," said Melyssa's older sister, Alyssa Gastelum.  "But there's so many things that you just don't know about… And it's not just teaching your kids right and wrong.  It's teaching them about what can happen to them.  How one decision can change their lives and their family's lives forever."

Demi Moore declined to discuss the story through her publicist. 

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Whip-Its: Brief Highs, Big Dangers for Demi Moore?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Inhaled nitrous oxide, a party drug more commonly known as laughing gas, whip-its and "hippie crack," provides relatively intense, brief highs, although few people realize it also can harm, or even kill.

Despite a benign reputation for reducing users to peals of laughter, the colorless, sweet-smelling gas deprives the heart and brain of oxygen and can cause damage. Nitrous oxide use is what reportedly landed actress Demi Moore in the hospital this week, according to the website, which posted statements from a friend who was at the 49-year-old actress's home when she lapsed into semi-consciousness.

Moore's publicist on Thursday declined to comment beyond the statement issued earlier in the week that the actress was receiving medical treatment.

"Because of the stresses in her life right now, Demi has chosen to seek professional assistance to treat her exhaustion and improve her overall health. She looks forward to getting well and is grateful for the support of her family and friends," her rep said in an email to ABC News.

Nitrous oxide interacts with the brain's reward system to cause "out-of-body, mild, hallucinatory, euphoric-type stuff," said Dr. Terry Horton, chief of addiction medicine at Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del. "To some folks, that's appealing."

The buzz is fleeting, lasting just a minute or two, while "the potential dangers are many," Horton told ABC News. Although Horton wasn't involved in Moore's treatment and wasn't familiar with the specifics of her case, he said coverage of nitrous oxide's effects on Moore could underscore its dangers, or backfire "if there's a sense out there that whip-its are not going to cause problems, and this PR perpetuates that."

Nitrous oxide use can be particularly dangerous for someone who has a history of abusing drugs or alcohol, according to Denise Carise, chief clinical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation in New York. "Often, the use of one drug can lead to the use of the person's drug of choice and new problems," she said. "We don't often see fatalities or brain damage from the abuse of nitrous oxide in isolation, but it's use is often associated with drinking and other risky behavior that can cause serious problems."

Nitrous oxide has legitimate uses as a mild anesthetic and pain-reliever, an engine booster in auto racing and rocketry, and to dispense whipped cream from pressurized spray cans (which is the source of its nickname -- written whip-its, whippits or whippets). Easily accessible, relatively inexpensive and generally legal -- although many states restrict sales to minors -- nitrous oxide has escaped the bad rap of other mood-altering drugs. Sir Humphry Davy, the British chemist who discovered its anesthetic properties in 1799, reported becoming intoxicated after breathing 16 quarts of the gas for almost seven minutes. Through much of the 1800s, it remained a largely recreational drug among poets and aristocrats, and had another surge of popularity among beat generation writers and artists of the 1950s.

Today, however, nitrous oxide is largely used by teenagers and young adults who inhale it from balloons they either fill from large tanks or from pressurized cans and cylinders. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Anaheim, Calif., Police Department, have been warning parents of increasing abuse, including two cases of suicide linked to the gas in September 2010. Mental health professionals worry about its effects on youngsters' developing brains, and indications that it can be a gateway to other drugs for them. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has sought to reduce its availability by asking wholesale distributors to limit sales to legitimate users and asking retail sellers to monitor sales of canned whipped cream and whipped cream chargers, the small cylinders of nitrous oxide used in whipped cream dispensers.

Horton said that nitrous oxide's potential long-term effects include interference with vitamin B-12, which can lead to a type of anemia, as well as damage to many parts of the nervous system.

"You can hypothesize that if someone was using this chronically, and they kept doing it, they could end up with some permanent nerve damage that might affect them all the way up to their ability to think," he said.

The jury remains out about whether nitrous oxide is truly addictive. "Those who inhale the Gas once are always anxious to inhale it the second time," reads a line in an 1845 handbill promoting a "Grand Exhibition" of laughing gas effects.

Anecdotal reports indicate people "develop dependence and behavioral changes that are suggestive of addiction," Horton said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio