Womp womp womp: whippit wave washes campus

Camille Buckner, Staff Writer

The drug nitrous oxide, colloquially known as “whippits,” is a popular drug of choice for Tulane students during Mardi Gras. (Lily Mae Lazarus)

During Mardi Gras, small empty canisters litter the street. 

For years, nitrous oxide has been used for quick highs. Also known as laughing gas, “whippits” or “womps,” among students, the use — and abuse — of the inhalant is growing.

 “I had no idea what they were. I didn’t even know what the word was,” an anonymous sophomore student said when asked about their prior knowledge of whippits. “The only reason I found out about [them] is because you start hearing people from grades above you or people who just have talked to other people … that have done it.” 

Some individuals are oblivious to the risks. “I’ve heard that it can really mess up your brain but I don’t know [the risks] exactly,” the sophomore said. 

At Tulane University, the discarded cans seen on and beyond Broadway Street are evidence that Tulane students are among those users, particularly during Mardi Gras. 

Some students have reported that, when talking to friends at other universities, these friends were “kind of surprised. They’re like, ‘that’s not normal.’” 

Many consider experimenting with drugs in college a norm. A study from The Recovery Village polled 400 people about college substance use, and 82.25% of respondents agreed that it is normal to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Addiction specialists say harm reduction strategies are crucial to minimize the risks. 

During Mardi Gras, students may feel more inclined to experiment. The same sophomore also said, “I think there’s an uptake of a lot of things during Mardi Gras, and people feel more like taking a risk.” 

Used for medical and dental procedures, nitrous oxide produces a minimal sedation effect. While there is little to no risk when administered by a professional, the risks associated with recreational use can be detrimental.

According to pediatrician Brian Gavan, some unwanted short-term effects include “lightheadedness, tingly [sensations], [sleepiness], dissociation, impaired memory and balance.” 

“These unwanted effects come from the displacement of air in [the] lungs which leads to a decreased amount of oxygen to the brain,” Gavan said. “This leads to asphyxia and sometimes even death.” 

“The hypoxia alone, or decrease in the oxygen to the brain, can lead to people passing out and having some significant falls and head injuries,” he added. 

Gavan said education is essential to harm reduction. 

The appeal of the drug comes from its anti-anxiety effect, euphoria and floating sensation.

But, “the effects are very short-lived,” Gavan said. To some users, this means consuming more nitrous oxide in one session. 

The canisters can be bought in packages of up to 300. 

 “I’ve heard of kids breaking into dentist offices and stealing entire tanks of nitrous, filling up trash bags and putting them over their heads,” Gavan said.

A major enabler of whippit abuse is its accessibility. The minimum age requirement to purchase a whipped cream charger is either 18 or 21 depending on the state. In New Orleans, whippits are widely available in areas where students frequent. 

The state of New York has even taken action to restrict the sale and possession of whipped cream canisters to anyone under 21 citing a penalty of up to $250 for an initial offense and $500 for any succeeding offenses . 

With frequent use, nitrous oxide can cause lasting damage to the brain and body. 

“Long term use can cause vitamin B-12 deficiency which leads to neuropathies — numbness, trouble walking, irritability, fatigue — and macrocytic anemia — fatigue,” Gavan said. The effects can be particularly harmful in adolescents. Other consequences include memory loss, depression and a weakened immune system.

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