VICE: Andrew W.K. on Whippits

Andrew W.K. on Whippits | VICE

I heard about them, as many did, in middle school. Whippits: little canisters of nitrous gas that you could… well—there was a proper use for them, which was to charge a can of whipped cream. But the kids in my school weren’t interested in using them the proper way. Instead, they’d empty the gas from the tiny canister into a balloon, then inhale that balloon for the unique physical effects it promised: lightheadedness, euphoria, a warm tingly feeling, a palpable physical undulation, being “happy drunk.”

Many of my classmates talked about these whippits and their experiences with them. Many tried them or said they had. We were at that precious (and potentially dangerous) age where no one wants to be left behind, or feel like they aren’t clued in, or risk being perceived as uncool. It was hard to tell how much of this talk was genuine. Either way, there was still the sense that the use of whippits was pretty widespread. I managed to get through school without ever partaking. For the longest time, in fact, I thought people getting high off whippits meant they were sucking on plastic tubs of Cool Whip by cracking the lid a little, letting gas escape.

But eventually, I learned. I started going into the head shops around my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to explore their world of barely legal wares, and I’d see boxes full of little metal canisters for sale right next to the cash register and people buying them with a few balloons, which were in a fishbowl on the counter. I also started to hear about some of the health risks the contents of these little shiny metal gas containers posed—that you could black out on them due to a lack of oxygen, or freeze your vocal cords, or feel nauseous to the point of puking. I heard quite a bit about how inhaling the gas killed brain cells, but people often debated how dangerous it actually was since it was discovered nearly 240 years ago.

None of the apparent risks kept my friends away, though, and at one legendary party in particular, a group of them obtained a tank full of nitrous, supposedly from a dentist’s office. They sucked on the thing until it was empty, and everyone there managed to escape the experience without inhaling themselves into a permanent state of brain damage. So, years later, finding myself bored on tour, and after trying harder drugs that changed me in profound and positive ways, I decided to finally huff some nitrous oxide to see what it was all about.

I was in Austin, Texas, and there was a head shop near the hotel I was staying at. I bought a box (thankfully, America wasn’t facing a shortage then) and a black “whipping cream” canister. The store helpfully walked me through the process after I admitted it’d be my first time (it’s true what they say about Southern hospitality!). Before I took that first hit, I thought of the brain cells I might kill and remember thinking about the often-stated theory that we only use a small percentage of our brainsMaybe all the damage I’d do would be to the 90 percent or so of my brain that I don’t use anyway! I inhaled.