I was out walking my dogs in some local woods recently and took a route through a small spinney of hazelnut trees. In the centre is a clearing popular as a hangout for young adults. On the ground I found a handful of small silver cylinders that looked like aqualung equipment for an Action Man or Barbie. I recognised them as ‘whippets’ – nitrous-oxide cylinders of the kind used in whipped-cream dispensers, also known as whip-its, bulbs, NOS, hippy crack, balloons and sweet air.
However, they are also used as an intoxicant. You use them to inflate a balloon, so the nitrous oxide can then be self-administered in small doses to achieve a mildly narcotic high. In the UK it is estimated that almost half a million young people use nitrous oxide recreationally.