A closer look at a dangerous fad growing in our area -- nitrous oxide

A closer look at a dangerous fad growing in our area -- nitrous oxide

Channel 11 is taking a closer look at a dangerous fad -- nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas.

Experts said the drug is popular because it's hard to detect, and it's showing up more and more in our area.

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Just last week at the in McKees Rocks, people attending a concert at the Roxian Theater were sold nitrous oxide balloons. One witness said the temporary high caused people to walk right into the street.

In October, John Schoenig, 17, was at an off-campus party at Penn State when police said he inhaled nitrous oxide through a metal cannister known as a "whippet," similar to the ones used for whipped cream. He collapsed and died from chemical asphyxia.

"The primary danger of inhaling a gas like nitrous oxide is asphyxiation, do too much of it and it causes, essentially, you suffocate yourself," said Dr. Dennis Mann, toxicology expert.

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The odorless, colorless gas is often used to sedate patients at the dentist's office, but it's also sold in many grocery stores and is finding its way onto college campuses and parents' basements.

"People inhale them to catch a very brief 30-40-second high maybe," Mann said.

This month, nine people were charged in the death of the Ohio University student who inhaled nitrous oxide during alleged hazing. Many of those charged were members of the Sigma Pi Fraternity.

So, how do you know if your friends or their friends are doing it? Most drug tests cannot detect nitrous oxide, but there are some warning signs.

"Empty metal cannisters... being scattered around the car and things like that, frequent trips to a certain grocery supply store would be a giveaway as well," Mann said.

As for the McKees Rocks incident, the alleged seller of the nitrous oxide balloons waived his court hearing Tuesday. He will face a judge in January.