Every mother’s deepest fear is losing a child. This fear was realized for Julia Charleston one weekend in early March of 2022 when she suddenly was unable to get in touch with her son Rob. Having received a strange email from him in the middle of the night, she quickly contacted his friends nearby and began what ended up being a 63-day search for her son. When he was found, the worst possibility had become reality. A few days before Rob’s disappearance, Julia recounts their conversation saying, “He was talking really fast and was very paranoid. He was saying strange things and that he felt like he was being controlled by an outside force.” What she believed to be an Adderall addiction, was something quite different. This outside force Rob spoke about is the deep neurological and psychological effects of Nitrous Oxide. Nitrous Oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a colorless gas found in pressurized canisters that is used as a pain alleviator and sedative for dental and medical procedures. When administered in the medical setting, the gas needs to be given with discretion and with at least 20% oxygen. Under the influence of this chemical compound, one’s brain slows down and the body’s reactions are delayed which results in feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and calmness. These side effects, when under medical supervision, are helpful and create a positive experience for patients and leave the body very rapidly. These antidepressant effects of the drug, however, can lay a foundation for developing a dependence on the euphoric high provided by nitrous oxide. There is a growing epidemic of individuals seeking the addictive high that results from inhalation of this chemical compound. There has been extensive research to reveal that there are detrimental effects to the overuse of nitrous oxide, especially when it is used without the proper amount of oxygen. Over time, this gas can greatly deplete the body of B12 and result in permanent neurological effects.
Like all addictive substances, one quickly develops a dependence on nitrous oxide, coming to crave more of the laughing gas euphoria. This trend began when teenagers and young adults began using different methods of attaining a hit of laughing gas. One method is through “whippits” which are steel canisters commercially sold to charge whipped cream dispensers. By sucking on the top of the canister before shaking it, one can find a perfect dose of Nitrous oxide. These canisters can be found for sale online and despite their dangerous addictive qualities, they remain legal and accessible to people of all ages. Although the physical consequences of this drug are critical, there remains deeper psychological torment that can lead to death.
After seeking restoration in their relationship a few years earlier, Rob had shared openly with his mom about his battle with substance abuse and his introduction to nitrous oxide. However, he never spoke of how serious it was or how deep it went. Rob and Julia lived in different states, however, were able to restore their relationship through routine calls. It was in the summer of 2021 that Julia noticed a difference in Rob. “He began to disassociate and be very paranoid on the phone. What used to be daily calls had become maybe weekly calls.” Having just begun his dream job, Rob had told his mother that he was getting an Adderall prescription to assist in beginning to work again. It was after Rob was let go that Julia noticed an even greater change. Many of Rob’s other relationships began to experience tension and difficulties. It was when Rob and his girlfriend broke up, that “he began to go downhill”, as Julia recounted. Julia was aware that Rob was using again, and the effects of their relational changes were connected to his use, however, she was still unaware of the severity or condition of his use. She explains, “He told me what I wanted to hear, and I only heard what I wanted to hear.” She follows this with “Sometimes parents don’t want to hear the hard things about their children, but it is important to keep an open mind and heart to those things because they can be persuasive in telling you everything is okay… Don’t let fear get in the way of hearing what your kid is not saying.” Nitrous oxide is particularly attractive to young adults because it is almost undetectable to parents since the high lasts for less than 10 seconds. There is a lack of education and awareness around Nitrous oxide, which has led to the view that it is harmless. This substance is most popular at music festivals and parties but has begun to stream on TikTok as “whip talks” where social media influencers are posting content of them getting high from this disguised poison.
After 63 agonizing days, Rob was discovered to have ended his life the night he went missing. His body was so badly decomposed they had to use his military records to identify his body. There are many accounts of individuals who use Nitrous oxide sharing that they reach a point where they are experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices. Rob stated he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but these symptoms are normal for an individual who is deep in a nitrous addiction. A New York Times article interviews an individual who describes his experience saying, “‘I had tactile hallucinations, visual hallucinations, audio hallucinations’ — some of them so strong that ‘it sounded exactly like I had an earpiece in my ear,’ he said. He described voices compelling him to keep consuming the drug. ‘I was being instructed to kill myself, and I considered that demon spirits,’ he said.” This voice can be described as a demon that berates users to either take more nitrous or to end their life. When the news reached Julia that her son had been found, her greatest fears had come true, “I collapsed to the floor and just wept.” She describes this grief and follows it up with, “I knew that my son did not kill himself, but it was the nitrous. He was controlled by the nitrous and it made him do this.” The tragedy that Julia walked through with her son has led her to pursue change for those around her. “This is the first step. Sharing my story. But it must go further, and we’ve got to open people’s eyes. People need to see it and hear it and know it.” She is expectant that change can come out of her pain and hopes to spread awareness to those around her. “I do not want anyone else to go through the hell that our family is still walking through. Everyone needs to know that this is a real issue.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with Nitrous Oxide, do not hesitate to reach out and look for the signs. Visit our Find Help page for more information. You can also reach out to Julia Charleston directly by her email: firstname.lastname@example.org