Why New York Stores May Ask For ID When You Buy Canned Whipped Cream

Instant whipped cream was discovered by University of Illinois grad student Charles Getz in the 1930s (via Illinois Distributed Museum). The chemistry student infused milk with carbon dioxide to cause it to foam. Since the carbon dioxide left a funny taste, Getz experimented and found nitrous oxide was the perfect flavorless replacement. 

Now canned whipped cream like Reddi Wip is ubiquitous. The mainstay of holiday dessert tables, it's a quick, creamy addition to pie, ice cream, or even a fancy coffee drink. While the dessert topper may seem innocent enough, NBC New York reports some New York stores have been limiting the sales of the nitrous oxide-charged whipped cream to those over the age of 21 after becoming aware of a law that quietly passed last year regulating the sale of whipped cream chargers (via Twitter).

When used in whipped cream, nitrous oxide is liquified and mixed in the can with the dairy, explains HowStuffWorks. Once opened, the pressure in the can is released, turning the fat-soluble nitrous oxide gaseous once again, which fluffs up the fat content of the cream and makes it an airy dessert. But why restrict it from minors?

Found in desserts and dentist offices

Nitrous oxide makes fresh whipped cream easier to access, but it's classed as a general anesthetic drug (via Drugs.com). Because the inhaled drug works quickly — and wears off just as fast with the application of oxygen — Colgate shares it's a favored sedative in dentist offices.

Cape Hart Dentistry explains when nitrous oxide fills the lungs, it muscles out the oxygen, leading to oxygen deprivation. (This has a side effect of making people feel giddy, and is why it's colloquially known as laughing gas.) In addition, nitrous oxide makes the brain release norepinephrine, which dulls pain receptors, and works on your body's GABAA receptors to ease anxiety (via Bethesda Family Dentistry). Because it stimulates the part of the brain that releases dopamine, euphoria is often a side effect, which Addiction Center says makes the drug dangerous.

According to Sky News, nitrous oxide is the second most abused drug by 16 to 24-year-olds in the U.K. (The number one spot goes to cannabis, reports their Office for National Statistics.) Indeed, the concern over nitrous oxide misuse is so strong, The British Compressed Gases Association has called for a ban on sales of the gas altogether.

The New York law is being misinterpreted

The New York Times reports nitrous oxide abuse appears to be increasing with teens and young adults in the U.S., citing an increase in popularity during the pandemic. Not only is the drug addictive, but it can also dangerously impact the respiratory system and can even trigger a stroke.

Given this, it makes sense to curb the sales of nitrous oxide to those most likely to abuse it. However, the law is actually being misinterpreted by some supermarkets. New York Senator Joseph Addabbo, who NBC New York shares introduced the law, tweeted out a clarification on August 29 that it was meant to cover the nitrous oxide chargers sold for use in reusable canisters rather than the one-time use whipped cream cans sold in your market's refrigerated section. 

As it seems some store owners didn't get the memo, for those under 21 who may be in need of a whipped cream recipe, making it at home may be a little more labor intensive, but the result tastes so good you'll probably never go back to the canned stuff.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).