Capital News Service

    LANSING — A bill awaiting Senate action would make it harder for people under 18 to misuse potentially dangerous nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas.

    Commonly known as “whip-its” — small metal containers made to refill canisters in restaurants and bakeries — they give people who inhale the nitrous oxide a shortlived euphoric high, said Scott Masi, an outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery in Brighton and the founder of the nonprofit Unite to Face Addiction.

    According to Masi, whip-its can be sold at liquor stores and gas stations, available to anybody who walks in the door.

    Although people of all ages can get high with nitrous oxide, it’s popular among youth because they often have a hard time getting alcohol and other drugs, said Brad Uren, a co-chair of the committee on state legislation and regulations at the Michigan State Medical Society in East Lansing.

    Masi said that because of its easy accessibility, whip-its are viewed as far less harmful than they actually are.

    For example, Masi went through a period of his life when he struggled with drug addiction. During that time, he did whipits, and he said there’s not enough public understanding of their dangers.

    According to Masi, the high is very short-lived so many people do a lot of inhalations in a short time.

    According to Eden Wells, the chief medical executive at the Department of Health and Human Services, there are a myriad of negative effects.

    Upon inhalation, brain cells are damaged. When the nitrous oxide is released it gets extremely cold and can result in frostbite, Wells said.

    The use of whip-its has been linked to anemia, convulsions and death, she said.

    And according to Wells, nitrous oxide is addictive and should be treated as such.

    The bill wouldn’t eliminate other ways youth get access to nitrous oxide. According to Masi, even cans of whipped cream at the grocery store contain nitrous oxide that can be used to get high.

    Sponsors of the proposal include Reps.

    Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan.

    The bill covers only containers that contain only nitrous oxide. That would leave many other ways in which people can get high in the same way.

    Even so Uren, Masi and Wells all said the bill would be a step in the right direction.

    Uren said it’s important that those products are no longer sold in places where they’re obviously not going to used correctly.

    “When bakery owners need to buy more supplies for their business, they aren’t going to go to a liquor store,” he said.

    Uren said education is another big part of reducing the improper use of nitrous oxide.

    The bill has passed the House and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.