A bizarre and grotesque story has come out of Johnson City, Kansas, this week when a woman named Melissa Ann Wright was arrested for abusing toxic vapors. What does that mean exactly? She was caught huffing canned air at a Walmart. Things were bad enough for Melissa Wright before police arrested her, because huffing canned air can cause instant frostbite.
According to the Huffington Post, the 32-year-old woman was caught getting high off a can of Ultra Duster at 11 p.m. last Wednesday night in an aisle of a Walmart store. Customers saw the woman huffing canned air and called 911 because the product was causing visible harm to Wright’s mouth.
KCTV 5 reported on the incident, claiming that an ambulance showed up in response to the 911 call, but Melissa Ann Wright refused medical treatment.
Huffing canned air can provide a brief sensation of intoxication or drunkenness and temporary hallucinations, but it can also lead to headaches, spasms, dizziness; and in the long term it can lead to liver or kidney failure, brain damage, or death. But the most immediate threat is instant frostbite, which seems to be what Melissa Ann Wright suffered, if her mugshot is any indication.
“[Canned air can] cause frostbite on contact,” said Tama Sawyer, the managing director of the University of Kansas Poison Control Center. “So you would have frostbite of the lips, throat, mouth and even further down.”
But there are even more risks involved with huffing canned air, says Sawyer. Because of the effects the chemicals have on the body, Wright could have passed out or died of a heart attack in the Walmart aisle.
“Once it enters the system it causes the heart to become super sensitive to things like adrenaline. So if you are frightened, you can have a heart attack… It can cause you to pass out fairly quickly because it removes the oxygen in your lungs.”
Users are not addicted to any of the chemicals in compressed air, but rather psychologically addicted to the feeling of giddiness it provides them.
The manufacturers of canned air products typically add a bitter taste to the chemical to discourage people like Melissa Ann Wright from huffing it, but sometimes that is not enough. Even so, Kansas police reported that cases like this are rare, and most drug users choose other substances over huffing canned air.
Melissa Ann Wright was taken to the Johnson County Jail and released shortly after on a $350 bond. It is unclear if she sought medical attention for the damage caused by huffing canned air.
[Image credit: Johnson County Jail]