DETROIT (WXYZ) — One puff from a whippet can give someone a 30-second high, but the damage done to the human body and a community can last much longer, according to Goya Diaz of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.
Diaz is also part of the large group of concerned citizens, community activists, and lawmakers working to educate parents on what a whippet is and sound the alarm on the dangers of the nitrous oxide that can come packaged in small, shiny cartridges that carry eight grams of what's commonly known as laughing gas.
Diaz and others say some area gas stations are now selling the large cylinders of nitrous oxide that carry 580 grams of the gas.
And the Whippet Wipeout Campaign Coalition is pressing to alert parents to the dangers of whippets and just to be able to spot one.
Whippets get their name from whipped cream because the intended use began as a way to make whipped cream. And that's partly to blame for the misperception that using nitrous oxide as a recreational drug is safe.
"It's a very powerful, euphoric, dissociative, out-of-body experience that can be very dangerous," said Dr. Elizabeth Bulat, who heads Addiction Medical Services for the Henry Ford Health System.
Dr. Bulat said dangerous inhalants like whippets can often be the first substance of choice for teenagers looking to get high because they're more accessible.
"Long-term, it really can cause major medical problems, including long-term brain damage, vitamin B 12 deficiency, which can lead to neurological problems, bone marrow problems, seizures, and, unfortunately, long term use can cause psychosis," Bulat said.
State Senator Stephanie Chang and Representative Joe Bellino worked on legislation to prohibit the sale of whippets to minors in Michigan. And they're now working to make it illegal for stores to sell any object designed to inhale nitrous oxide by classifying them as drug paraphernalia.
Some of the objects are called "crackers" because they crack open the whippet to get to the gas inside.
"Clearly, if you're selling them at a gas station, or at a liquor store, this may not be the intended purpose by that purchaser but because they have a legitimate use we couldn't outright ban the sale of them (whippets)," said Sen. Chang.
And then there's the littering. Members of the Whippet Wipeout Campaign Coalition have picked up well over 60,000 whippets, small and large, that are being tossed out by the handful or dozens by people using them to get high even while driving.
Anthony Benavides of the Clark Park Coalition said closing the park at 9 PM has helped cut down on people coming to the park after hours to sit and get high off of whippets.
He has hopes of protesting any store in the area suspected of selling whippets to minors or anyone who clearly isn't buying whippets to make whipped cream.
"We need to put them on a wall of shame," he added. I know, you're making a little bit of money, but at the end of the day, you're really destroying people's minds.