No laughing matter: The dangers of abusing nitrous oxide

Photo of "whippets" sometimes misused to inhale nitrous oxide
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (10TV) - You can find it at a doctor's office or in the grocery store, but something this common can be used in harmful ways.

Last year, Ohio University student Collin Wiant died after alleged hazing. The Athens County Coroner determined that Wiant died from asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion.

Nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," is often used to take the pain away or help put you to sleep. However, more and more it is being abused for recreation.

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"It rises in popularity ... and then it kind of decreases. It never completely goes away," said Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"Whippets," or tiny canisters of nitrous oxide, can be used to recharge whipped cream dispensers. It can also be misused as a way to feel a high or sense of euphoria.

"It has a dangerous downside - a significant dangerous downside," Spiller said.

What is safe in a controlled setting like a doctor's office, can be dangerous in a party environment. When used incorrectly, you can deprive yourself of oxygen.

"You can take large doses and essentially pass out - stop breathing - respiratory arrest," Spiller said.

It can take only one time to kill you. Repeated abuse also has consequences.

"You can have real chronic significant issues to the point of paralysis. The nerve damage, weakness, and other issues," Spiller said.

Nitrous oxide is not illegal. However, Ohio law does make it clear you cannot abuse harmful intoxicants.

If you think someone may be poisoned, please call 1-(800)-222-1222.