It’s no laughing matter.
A neurologist has declared nitrous oxide is “more dangerous than cocaine” amid a dramatic uptick in young people experimenting with the drug.
Nitrous oxide — commonly referred to as “laughing gas,” “Whippits” and “hippy crack” — is legally sold in single-use silver “cracker” canisters, dispensed into balloons and inhaled to create a temporary feeling of relaxation and euphoria.
While the substance has long been used recreationally, “huffing” experimentation rates among those 16 to 24 years old have soared post-pandemic.
“I’ve been a neurologist for 21 years and have seen a definite change in how it’s being used, since the pandemic,” UK-based Dr. David Nicholl declared in an interview with South West News Service.
“Compared to before, now the volumes of nitrous oxide being consumed can be quite terrifying — up to 150 cylinders per day,” he added of the new epidemic impacting the Gen Z demographic.
While direct deaths from the inhalation of nitrous oxide are rare, Dr. Nicholl said serious long-term health problems can be caused by drug, including nerve damage, memory loss and paralysis.
“It’s perceived as safe and terms like ‘laughing gas’ are especially unhelpful because it makes it sound trivial,” he said.
The Post previously reported on a 32-year-old American man left partially paralyzed after inhaling nitrous oxide every day for two months.
The unidentified man went to the emergency room after not being able to walk for two weeks, according to a case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He also experienced tingling in his arms and legs for six weeks before his hospitalization, the study noted.
Two months before he started exhibiting symptoms, the man had been inhaling nitrous oxide daily, co-authors Dr. Joseph Y. Yoon of NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Joshua P. Klein of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital noted.
Dr. Nicholl added that young Brits were being enticed to try nitrous oxide due to content spreading online: “They’re marketing on social media, and they know exactly what they’re doing.”
In 2021, the New York Times reported that young Americans were similarly being exposed to such content, which was “flourishing online.”
On TikTok, enthusiasts of the drugs post videos under the search term “Whiptok” — a portmanteau of the words “Whippit” and “TikTok.” These clips have racked up more than 479.6 million views on the controversial, China-owned video streaming platform.
“Jackass” star Stephen Gilchrist Glover — better known as Steve-O — told the Times he had been hooked on the drug and worried about the influence of social media.
“It’s definitely more, like, relevant now,” he stated, saying he’d seen musicians and friends experimenting with nitrous oxide on Instagram.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nicholl currently considers nitrous oxide “a bigger health risk than cocaine” due to how prevalent it is.
“I have a patient every few years because of cocaine, but one every week due to nitrous oxide,” he said.
In the US, nitrous oxide is sold legally, popularly used in whipped cream canisters. However, it is illegal to inhale nitrous oxide recreationally.
In November 2021, New York implemented a law making it illegal for those under the age of 21 to purchase whipped cream canisters in a bid to “curb teens’ possible abuse of nitrous oxide.”
While Dr. Nicholl doesn’t believe nitrous oxide will ever be completely outlawed, he said education is key.
“Restricted distribution is what’s recommended,” he said. “What we need to do is target the supply chain — but you do still need a caveat for some kind of legitimate use.”
“We should be focusing on education so people are more aware of how dangerous it is when sold and used recreationally,” he further declared.