PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) It's a fast and dangerous high and it's as easy to get walking through a concert venue parking lot; nitrous oxide or whippets. It's also become a huge black market business.
As FOX 29's Chris O'Connell finds out some are making quick money selling a quick high.
Go to many concert parking lots these days and you'll find a drug of choice-that's really not a drug at all, but it's just as dangerous. Laughing gas and it's no laughing matter. The sale of recreational nitrous oxide has become big money.
FOX 29 went to five concerts in three cities where we witnessed the black market balloon business booming. We visited Chicago, Washington and the Philly's Mann Music and Wells Fargo Centers. We saw a loosely organized group of nitrous dealers roaming concert parking lots. Police say much like a group that travel to music festivals up and down the east coast. Some have even labeled them “the nitrous mafia". Where do you find them?
Literally within three minutes of getting to the parking lot of the Wells Fargo center-we heard that familiar sound of nitrous oxide tanks going off. They call him: "the gasman" selling balloons filled with laughing gas-3 for 20 bucks.
In every parking lot we found the same thing, men and women, young and old-- huffing party balloons filled with gas--getting a quick and intense high. FOX 29 cameras followed a nitrous operation for three days outside a Grateful Dead Concert in Chicago. It starts with the popping a couple balloons to attract customer attention and it worked within seconds.
Customers can't get their money out fast enough. The crowd blossoms to dozens--all rushing to buy their balloons. When the crowd gets too big, the operation is shut down as we see a man hauling off the nitrous tank in a warming bag around his back and it's on to the next block .That's exactly where we found the same men minutes later and the customers were right there waiting.
Center City dentist Alan Atlas uses nitrous oxide to relax his patients.
“It goes right on the nose and have them breathe in,” he explained.
But he says inhaling so much so fast starves the brain of oxygen; killing brain cells that can lead to seizures or sudden death.
"You can die from it. I mean that's serous the situation is,” he said.
Evesham Township police recently put a dent one nitrous operation. Two New York men were busted on a road trip to a concert in Philly with a thousand balloons and 12 large tanks of nitrous oxide inside their car.
"Their intentions were to take these tanks an the balloons and sell what you would call "whippets in the parking lot that night," said Evesham Township Police Lt. Joseph Friel.
Back at sports complex parking lot, we watched for 2 hours as customers lined up at the trunk of one car to buy balloon after balloon from two men.
Selling nitrous oxide for recreational use is illegal and we did see Philly police trying to crack down on nitrous dealers. But as soon as the cops pass; the gas was flowing and the party started once again.
Leaving behind a parking lot filled with empty balloons and some wondering is it really worth it?
"It scares the living daylight out of me actually. I think of what if my own children were doing something like that," Atlas explained.