Nitrous Oxide Abuse
Most people are not aware of the prevalence and availability of the powerful dissociative inhalant drug called Nitrous Oxide. However, many root-canal patients are aware of the drug since it is the most commonly-used dental anesthetic. While you may hear the occasional news segment highlighting the “huffing” of paint or aerosol, surprisingly little media attention is given to an inhalant that is specifically marketed towards a young user-base, and sold for the purpose of intoxication, which is how get into nitrous oxide abuse.
Nitrous Oxide (Nitrous, Nos) can be found at smoke shops in the form of cylindrical metal cartridges known as “whip-its.” The box of whip-its depicts bikini-babes and brand names like “Whip It On,” “Cream Dream” and “oXXXide.” Lined up next on the shelf is a tool for puncturing canisters and large balloons to hold the gas. It seems too good to be true for many young drug users.
Read: Substance Use & Misuse
When I first inquired into the innocuously jingling box, I was just 16 years old and positively looked it. The shopkeeper had been selling me marijuana paraphernalia for almost a year already, so he knew I might be interested. With broken English, he explained the effects as, “Dizzy fun and laughing,” thoughtfully adding, “just like Disneyland!” We had a laugh. After showing me how to operate the “cracker” and fill the balloons, he decided not to charge me for the tools, telling me to have fun, and be safe.
I thought I was a pretty smart guy…I knew the dentist used this same thing to knock people unconscious. If I just did a little bit, it should probably be completely harmless! I knew huffing glue was a dumb idea, but how bad could Nitrous be if it’s legal…right?
The potential for serious injury, illness, and even death is a real and present danger every time is it inhaled. Contrary to what the folks at school told me, Nitrous Oxide abuse is a misdemeanor crime and carries penalties similar to many other drugs. Smoke shops somehow get around the law by winking a friendly reminder that it’s “not for human consumption.”
There is also extreme potential for addiction due to the short duration (~45s). Like crack, the frequent need to re-dose builds obsessive and compulsive habits. As soon as the user comes back to life, he is reaching for another canister. Long-term Nitrous Oxide abuse has been known to cause complete paralysis due to it’s effect on the nervous system.
The biggest danger with Nitrous Oxide abuse is anoxia, or lack of oxygen. If too much of the gas is inhaled, it will replace the oxygen in your blood with Nitrous and can cause acute respiratory failure, irreversible brain damage, and death. Your body doesn’t even realize it’s dying until the brain shuts down.
Common injuries include cuts, bruises and broken bones that are caused by falling injuries. Dissociative drugs cause the feeling of being separated from your body, which can bring about dizziness, confusion, headaches, nausea, and loss of motor functions or bladder control. Nitrous Oxide abuse delivers this effect within seconds, dropping the user to the ground and probably knocking out a few teeth.
Nitrous Oxide abuse is a steadily-rising trend among teenagers, and spreading awareness of the danger is the only way to get this deceptively-marketed drug out of the stores. Substance abuse is one of the most devastating social issues we face, yet powerful and deadly anesthetics are sold directly to the most vulnerable market for the express purpose of inhalation. If you or someone you know might be abusing Nitrous Oxide, make sure they get the facts. This is not a toy, and it is certainly not for human consumption.