WHAT ARE WHIPPETS?
Whippets, is a familiar street name for whipped-cream chargers, steel cartridges filled with nitrous oxide that are meant to be used with whipped cream dispensers. Filled with nitrous oxide, also referred to as “laughing gas” or “hippy crack” they are all too commonly used to get “high”. While nitrous oxide is a safe sedation method under the care of medical professionals like dentists, when used to get “high”, whippets impair the brain and cause significant health risks.
HOW WHIPPETS AS A RECREATIONAL DRUG AFFECT THE BODY
Nitrous Oxide is often used for pain relief, but it affects the brain in other ways. It gives a “high” that lasts a minute, sometimes a few minutes and impairs judgement while lowering inhibitions. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation studies show accelerated risk relative to a person’s weight, which increases the impact on adolescents who experiment with the inhalant.
Long term misuse may result in organ damage, seizures, comas, hallucinations, vitamin b12 deficiency and even death. Not only does inhalant abuse make it harder for the lungs to absorb oxygen, it also impacts the heart, liver, and kidneys. Symptoms of distress include difficulty breathing and a dangerous decrease in blood pressure.
WHERE DOES WHIPPET ABUSE HAPPEN?Whippet discards show up by the thousands on city streets and parking lots.
The Deadline Detroit publication states that “the high is short, so [teens] don’t have to fear their parents noticing”. Youth don’t realize the true dangers.
Increasingly, whippets are a growing problem in Southwest Detroit. In less than a month, the Southwest Detroit Whippet Wipe Out Campaign cleaned up over 25,000 whippets cartridges from streets and parking lots.
Frank Venegas Jr., the CEO of Ideal Group, stated that “as a community, we have a growing concern about the volume of whippets being used by residents who are breathing in nitrous oxide from whipped-cream dispensers to get high.”
Ideal Group in Southwest Detroit, is a family owned construction business with a long track record for community involvement. Ideal Group collaborated with other businesses and nonprofits to tackle the impact of whippet drug use and health.
“Frank elaborates by saying that “this behavior can be incredibly dangerous – and even fatal in some instances — and creates a public safety issue when thousands of empty cartridges are littered in our streets and parking lots. These small whippets get in our tires and cause flats, blow-outs and are a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and those traveling on scooters. We formed this coalition to engage and educate our community about the public health and safety issues that are created by using whippets.”
CANDLE, Inc., known for alerting communities to drug trends and the Reality Tour prevention program for communities, interviewed Christopher Lara, a volunteer from Ideal Group, to talk about the clean up and whippets issue in Detroit.
SIGNS OF WHIPPETS ABUSE
Whippet abuse can manifest as weakness, balance problems, numbness, memory loss, mood changes, paranoia and delusions. These are signs for parents to take notice of if they suspect their child is experimenting.
Other clear signs of whippet abuse are the discards: metal cartridges, balloons and cracker devices. Cracker devices, pictured below, are used to open up the cartridges.
It is especially troubling when popular music celebrates getting high. Gunna, a famous rap artist, has used whippets in videos and photos during the 2020 pandemic. This upset fans all around the world, who tweeted saying “they thought he was better than that”.
DJ Booth, a popular music critic, interviewed Gunna about his new album a few days before his controversial whippets video debut. Soon after, the critic deleted the interview so as not condone the use of whippets or any other aerosol-based drugs.
Because youth are influenced by popular artists, it is a danger to public health for artists to condone drug abuse in their music and videos.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is quite concerned about the influence of artists on teenagers and the glamorization of drug and alcohol abuse. Artists like Gunna have the ability to impact an entire generation’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
ARE WHIPPETS A COMMON DRUG?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administation, whippets are the most commonly abused inhalant. They are more misused than common household inhalants such as gasoline, lighter fluid, glue and spray paint.
SAMHSA’s study in 2019 found that 4.6% of adolescents surveyed between the ages of 12 – 17 had misused whippets. This group is trending upward in use of the drug from the prior year, in more cities than Detriot.
To address drug use in general as well as specific drug trends, consider establishing the parent/child educational program called Reality Tour that engages the community in prevention.