A ring of Southern California businesses has been illegally selling nitrous oxide for use as a recreational drug, federal and local law enforcement officials said Friday afternoon in announcing a regional crackdown.
Three auto supply employees were arrested earlier in the day in a federal law enforcement sweep that included searches of 17 businesses and nine delivery vehicles linked to the ring, authorities said.
A fourth suspect is still being sought.
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, can be used for welding, as a speed booster in cars or as an as anesthetic by dentists and doctors. Despite potentially dangerous side effects, recreational users fill balloons with the drug, known as whippets or noz, and inhale it for the short powerful rush it provides.
The 15-month investigation found that car racing supply stores in Orange County, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire have been selling nitrous oxide to customers who used the drug to get high, authorities said.