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Learn About the Dangers of “Whip-its”

Salt River Police Sgt. Jeremiah Rangel shows examples of "Whip-its," small metal canisters of compressed nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, and a dispenser.

It’s known as a cheap high that is easily accessible at liquor stores just beyond the boundaries of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Small metal canisters of compressed nitrous oxide (N2O) or carbon dioxide (CO2), also known commonly as “whippets” or “whip-its,” can be purchased for the price of a fast-food value meal.

These gas chargers are steel cylinders filled with nitrous oxide, commonly found in aerosol cans as a propellant. This is the same gas that dentists use prior to some dental procedures. When inhaled, it causes a short-lived euphoria, which is why it’s called “laughing gas.” Similar canisters containing CO2 are used with air guns.

Like alcohol, inhaling the gas from these canisters is popular as a recreational high. But using them as an inhalant is illegal in the Community. While inhaling the gas directly can cause a momentary feeling of euphoria, it also could potentially result in long-term negative health effects. Because the gas is very cold coming out of the canister, users risk frostbite to their lips, tongue and esophagus. Also, as the gases displace oxygen in the lungs and brain, the result can be convulsions, seizures and even death.

A "Whip-its" dispenser with a sealed top. Abandoned "Whip-its" along the road not far from Two Waters.
Salt River police suspect that people abuse the canisters and randomly dump them. It’s not hard to find a pile of empty canisters in the Community, abandoned along roads, specifically near stop signs. Canisters are usually metal, 2 to 4 inches long, and come in orange, red, blue or silver.

Sgt. Jeremiah Rangel, a Salt River Police Department veteran of 19 years, said this type of abuse has been an issue in the Community for years. Dust-Off, also contain compressed gas, and these are also used as inhalants to get high, he said. Often times, users mix the inhalant high with alcohol.

Inhalant abusers in the Community tend to be 15 to 25 years of age, he said, but he has seen people as young as 12 and as old as 45 abuse the gas.

“It used to be huffing paint [in previous] years, but now kids do this [inhale nitrous oxide or carbon dioxide] and Dust-Off,” Rangel said. “It’s dangerous and kids don’t realize what they’re getting into.”

SRPMIC President Delbert Ray, Sr., said whip-its are a concern in the Community.

Rangel said at least two vehicle fatalities in the Community over the years were connected to use of whip-its.

On a recent test visit to a liquor store in Mesa, not far from the southern Community boundary and Westwood High School, nitrous oxide canisters and whipped cream dispensers were on display for purchase next to alcohol bottles. The whipped cream dispensers were not placed near any bakery goods.

A common whipped cream dispenser has a spinoff top for access to place the cream. The ones sold at liquor stores don’t have a spinoff or detachable top, Rangel said, who had one of these containers as an example.

“This is designed solely for inhaling the gas, but it’s made to look like it’s for whipped cream,” he said.